By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsDecember 27, 2007
JERF AL MILA, Iraq -- Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized) brought smiles to the faces of children at a local elementary school in Jerf Al Mila, northwest Baghdad Dec. 17, by delivering donated school supplies and care packages.
The Iraqi troops, who are continuing to build trust and relationships with the local people, coordinated the mission and handed out toys, notebooks, pencils, crayons, candy and clothes among many other items to boys and girls in each classroom. The packages were sent to Iraq by American elementary school children who attend the Communion Lutheran Church in Sterling, Va.
As the Iraqi troops entered the Jerf Al Mila school, children began waving to the Iraqi soldiers and asked the troops to sit next to them. Prior to handing out the items, the Iraqi troops, school officials and local leaders sorted each of the items to be handed out.
A few American advisors with the 329 Military Transition Team were on hand to observe the event.
"The Iraqi soldiers really are happy to do this and you can see the joy they are bringing to these children's lives today," said Conowingo, Md. native Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Hoy, a signal intelligence noncommissioned officer who works for the 329 Military Transition Team on Camp Taji.
"They (Iraqi troops in the 3rd Battalion) did all the planning and coordinated the event and that's a very big thing," said Capt. Jason Fees of the 329 MITT who hails from Bartlesville, Okla. "They coordinated the security for the patrol and arranged a meeting with local leaders and the sheiks to make this happen. It shows the positive types of things the Iraqi Army is doing here."
"It's been a great opportunity for the Iraqi Army to interface with children at the school, local tribal sheiks and local leaders," said Hoy. "The event also serves an awesome opportunity to give some cultural awareness to the Iraqi children and American children back home in the states."
Along with the packages, children at the Communion Lutheran Church sent photos of themselves working in classrooms at the church and packaging the items. They also included pictures of American children playing soccer, which is a favorite sport for many Iraqi children, along with photos of American children going to school and doing class work.
Hoy told the Jerf Al Mila school children through an interpreter that he would send their photos to the children in the U.S. who sent the packages so they could see what Iraqi classrooms are like and to let them know that the items they sent had been received.
Improvements in security in Jerf Al Mila have allowed the opportunity for more missions to take place that concern projects and community relations efforts, such as the school visit, many of which have involved the participation of the Iraqi Army.
"We've seen a lot of positive results in this area and the levels of significant events and hostilities have definitely declined," said Hoy. "The Iraqi Army has been able to become much more involved in the community here."
According to Hoy, what is taking place in the village has involved a concerted effort by the local Iraqi people working with Iraqi Security Forces, tribal sheiks, local leaders and Coalition Forces to end sectarian violence.
"There were a lot of factors which provided the ingredients for what is going on now to include the troop surge, reconciliation efforts with tribal sheiks and local leaders being very proactive in the process, increased Iraqi Army involvement and the Iraqi security volunteers," added Hoy. "In the beginning in some of our areas, we had fixed, Iraqi Army sites where the roads were heavy with improvised explosive devices. Now we typically don't run into those types of problems."
"It's also very rewarding to see the results of what the Soldiers who were here before us have done," said Hoy. "The (U.S.) Soldiers in Dagger troop, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment who currently operate here have done an outstanding job in this area with civil affairs projects and building long lasting relationships that we, as members of the military transition team, have been able to share in."
The Iraqi troops in the 3rd Bn. often participate in joint operations in the village with their U.S. counterparts in Troop D, 1st Bn., 82nd Field Artillery Regiment which is attached to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. Advisors from the 329 MITT often take part in these operations to assist the Iraqi troops, added Hoy.
Hoy said he sees a time in the not too distant future when the Iraqi Army eventually takes full responsibility for security in the area of operations.
"The Iraqi Army is getting better everyday through outstanding leadership," said Hoy.