JERF AL MILA, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 28, 2007) - Iraqi soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized) brought smiles to children at a local elementary school in northwest Baghdad by delivering donated school supplies and care packages, Dec. 17.

The Iraqi troops, who are building trust and relationships with the local people, coordinated the mission and handed out items, including toys, notebooks, pencils, crayons and candy, that were sent by elementary-school children who attend the Communion Lutheran Church in Sterling, Va. The Iraqi troops, school officials and local leaders sorted the items.

As the Iraqi troops entered Jerf Al Mila school, children began waving to the soldiers and asked the troops to sit next to them. 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," said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Hoy, a signal intelligence noncommissioned officer with the 329 Military Transition Team. "It's a great opportunity for the Iraqi Army to interface with children at the school, local tribal sheiks and local leaders. The event also serves an awesome opportunity to give some cultural awareness to the Iraqi children and American children back home."

"They did all the planning and coordinated the event and that's a very big thing," said Capt. Jason Fees. "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."

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, a favorite sport of many Iraqi children, and photos of American children going to school and doing class work.

Sgt. 1st Class Hoy told the Jerf Al Mila students that he would send their photos to the American children so they could see Iraqi classrooms and to let them know that the items they sent had been received.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Hoy, such missions are the result of local security improvements and an effort by local Iraqi people to work with Iraqi Security Forces, tribal sheiks, local leaders and Coalition Forces to end sectarian violence.

"We've seen a lot of positive results in this area, and the levels of significant events and hostilities have definitely declined," he said. "The Iraqi Army has been able to become much more involved in the community here.

"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, local leaders being very proactive in the process, increased Iraqi-Army involvement and the Iraqi-security volunteers," he added. "In the beginning, in some of our areas, we had Iraqi-Army sites where the roads were heavy with improvised-explosive devices. Now we typically don't run into those types of problems."

The Iraqi troops 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 participate to assist the Iraqi troops, added Sgt. 1st Class Hoy.

He said he sees a time in the near future when the Iraqi Army takes full responsibility for security in the area of operations.

"The Iraqi Army is getting better everyday through outstanding leadership," he said.

(Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp serves with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Office.)