HABBANIYAH, Iraq --
Hundreds of Habbaniyah residents and community leaders gathered at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of both an elementary school and medical clinic here, Nov. 24.
These two projects were just a couple out of a number of projects completed by the Marines of Civil Affairs Group, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, during their yearlong deployment.
New paint, concrete and glass were among the physical improvements made to the two facilities. With spectators filling the streets around him, Hussein Ali Hussein, the mayor of Habbaniyah, cut the colorful, streaming ribbons that crossed the thresholds of both brightly painted facilities.
The civil affairs Marines have guided the organization of projects across the Habbaniyah area, which are all Iraqi-driven and have changed the area for the better.
1st Lt. Curtis L. Thomas, the officer in charge of the civil affairs team based here, said his team is focusing on “the ability of the Iraqis to help themselves."
“We created what we call an Iraqi civil affairs committee,” said Thomas, 28. “They go into an area to see what can be done and then submit an official report, which is presented to the mayor of the town and myself. Then we have experts go out and assess these proposed projects. This is mostly Iraqi and this is how they are helping themselves.”
The team has encouraged the locals in each area to form a strong and active city council, which works to run and improve each area. According to Furat Mohammed, the director of security for the city council, the Marines and the city council have been good for his community.
“Right now, we only have to work on street lights and trying to improve electricity. Some of them have been fixed and we are getting equipment. What’s going on right now is the area is coming together as a whole around what has been established here by the Marines’ team. They are good guys and we know there is a lot of pressure on them, but they are still pulling through and a lot of great construction has been done. It’s going to be better in the future with (Coalition Forces) and Iraqis working together,” Mohammed said.
Thomas said revitalizing the educational establishment in the region was a linchpin in improving conditions over the long term.
“Schools enhance the neighborhoods,” said Thomas. “Without schools there is no education for the youth, and now, with the progress in the area, they don’t have to fear that their schools will be shot or blown up. It gives them hope for the future and gives them back services that they have not had in a long time.”
When the team goes to check on the progress of their schools, it’s always a fresh look into the future of the communities. The children are happy and attendance is on the rise, said Mohammed Araq Hussien, 45, the director of a local Habbaniyah school.
“A couple of years ago, with Saddam, this school was no good,” said Hussien. “But now it is very good, because the kids enjoy school now, since it has been refurbished. It is nice and clean, a good place for children to get their education. To Iraqis and Muslims, education is essential. With knowledge, you can progress. Knowledge is the base of life. Our prophet Mohammed said that to succeed, you need knowledge in this life, in the next life and in both. Our prophet asks us to take in knowledge from birth to death. You know, the first verse and the first word of the Quran is knowledge. With the team here, we get more help and we have built more classes. We need more help with books, but God willing, we can get them ourselves.”
From an outside view, the sight of children cheering and learning in the safe and secure schools is the most visible example of the progress made in the area.
“We wouldn’t be half as far as we are now without their engagement, their willingness to go the extra mile,” said Thomas, a native of Lacrosse, Va., talking about his Marines. “Success is an understatement. We won’t leave a project until we’re done … It feels good that we are completing our mission and the job we, specifically, were sent here to do.”
The day was almost done and the Marines had completed what they had come to do, but one of the local headmasters for the area wasn’t quite finished speaking to the crowd within the school. The man had a quick reminder to give to his people and thanks to give to the Marines before everyone went back to their homes and the Marines headed toward base.
“I want to tell you a little bit about our area,” said the educator. “Only one year ago we weren’t free to speak our mind, the schools were closed and there were women who were having their babies (without any medical care.) This is an unnatural way to live, but now we have the school and the new clinic and we can progress. God bless the Americans…they are the only ones who help us every time.”