By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsDecember 14, 2007
ASSIRIYAH, Iraq - Thanks to recent improvements in security, local leaders here with a little help from Soldiers in Troop D, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division are bringing civic improvement projects to residents throughout this village of more than 2,600 people.
The Troop D troopers leant a hand in one such project by donating computers for a recently started computer literacy class that began at the Assiriyah community center last week.
"It's a phenomenal thing that it's so safe now that we can dedicate combat power to doing this," said Capt. Martin Wohlgemuth, Troop D commander and a native of Anchorage, Alaska. "There's so much more safety in our entire area that now our Soldiers will go out and do civic improvement projects and that's their patrol for the day."
"Today, we just came out here to make sure everything is running smoothly for the class," added Wohlgemuth during a Dec. 6 visit to one of the community center's classrooms. "We had talked previously with the director general of the community center to give people in the village an education in basic computer literacy skills. So we provided eight computers to help get them started."
Local government and tribal leaders have been ensuring instructors are available for the classes which meet three times a week for men (ages 11 and up) and three times a week for women (also ages 11 and up) in separate, segregated blocks of instruction.
The classes cover everything from basic word processing to internet usage, as well as saving and opening files among many other applications.
"Many of them already know the parts of the computer, but now they're getting the basics such as how to turn the computer on, how it works and what it does. This means everything to them, and in my mind we're bringing them into a new age and placing them on par with other computer users in the world," said Wohlgemuth.
According to the director general of the community center, who wished not to be named due to security concerns, the class is part of an Iraqi Ministry of Education program.
"We use the Ministry of Education's teaching curriculum for basic skills, and through the program we test the students and provide them with certificates when they graduate from the course," said the community center director general. "This program is good because a lot of people here are very poor and don't have access to computers. It was very kind of the Coalition Forces to give us computers to help us with the program."
Although the classes are intended for ages 11 to adult, the bulk of the participants for the first week of the classes were children and teens.
"We expect a great future for these kids and with the progress we are having with security I can see these children growing up to be doctors, engineers or anything else they wish to be-god willing," the community center director said.
Soldiers who have worked with many of the projects in Assiriyah and other towns in which Troop D patrols said they enjoy getting to meet the people and seeing them
"I'm all for helping people with getting some type of education," said Sgt. Joel Roderick, a medic with Troop D, who calls both Cadillac, Mich. and Fort Hood, Texas home. "It's good to see that the people in the village have constructive ways to pass their time, doing things that make them happy and give them a feeling of normalcy"
The children who participated in the class said they felt it was worthwhile.
Mustafa Ali, 11-years-old, who wants to be the owner and manager of an Internet shop said, "This is really sweet, learning how to use the internet is what I wanted to do most and I like this very much."
"It made me very happy to be able to learn this and I'm learning a lot," said Samer Hikmat, who is also 11-years-old and who wants to be a doctor some day.
Besides computer classes, the community center also has a very large sewing room in which there are several sewing stations with sewing machines and large rolls of fabric. Women in the village use the sewing machines, creating clothes, blankets and other items which they in turn can sell for extra income.
'The director general was very aggressive in getting a lot of the projects here off the ground to include the women's sewing center in the back," said Wohlgemuth.
A future project will include Troop D working with the community center personnel and local officials to bring an adult literacy class for Arabic reading and writing to the people of Assiriyah.