553rd CSB Operation Pencilbox
There were an estimated 2,000 school facilities within the three provinces of Task Force Iron Horse (TFIH). Most of these schools have not benefited from the support of coalition projects. Several of these schools had garbage and broken fixture (windows, doors, bathroom stalls, sinks, ect) from looting and years of neglect. The students have been forced to attend schools with little or no budget for repairs, equipment or basic school supplies. TFIH and the Ministry of Education have been working cohesively to develop and execute projects to rebuild the school's infrastructures using various funds.
On 30 August 2003, the 553rd Corps Support Battalion identified and appointed schools to their subordinate companies. The 743rd Maintenance Company along with the 664th Ordinance Company as a secondary sponsor, through the Adopt-a-School Program were assigned two schools. A boy's school, Al Mithaq, and a girl's school, Al Muloud, in the downtown Tikrit area. Were the schools assigned to these companies respectively.
The 442nd Quartermaster Company along with the 541st Petroleum Transportation Company as a secondary sponsor were also assigned a school through the Adopt-a-School Program. This school, Al Hafeth, houses both boys and girls in segregated classrooms located North of Tikrit.
During the initial visit to the schools unit representatives met with the schools' headmasters and mistresses. The most obvious and significant observations during this visit was the much- needed attention to the schools' bathrooms, windows, doors, painting, and electrical service.
On 10 September 2003, unit representatives met with the local contractors, who would be working on these schools, to finalize the contracts. On 13 September 2003, unit representatives along with the 553rd Corps Support Battalion Commander, LTC Gaston, conducted another visit to the schools. During this trip, LTC Gaston was able to meet with local officials and unit representatives and assess the importance of the schools' needs.
Units established clean-up crews and conducted a six-day operation in September to identify hazards such as unexploded ordinances (UXO), to clean away debris, and to deliver school supplies to prepare schools for the fall term.
Throughout the month of October units visited their schools to assess progress on school renovations conducted by the local contractors. Also during this time the 345th RAOC Base Defense Liaison Team assisted with a security assessment of each of the schools to help units with force protection. By mid October, unit representatives assisted MAJ Geck, the 64th Corps Support Group Civil Affairs officer, by providing him with completed education facility questionnaires done on all three schools. On 08 November 2003, unit representatives delivered and installed chalkboards to 5 different schools (12 at Al Muloud, 15 at Al Mithaq, 15 at Al Hafeth, 7 at Al Sekor, and 18 at an unnamed school) as well as delivering other schools supplies.
Also note that a great deal of the supplies delivered came from friends and relatives of unit members assisting in rebuilding these schools. Many thanks go out to these individuals and groups who donated so generously. Their contributions are truly helping a worthy cause.
Throughout the year MAJ Geck and the Deputy Governor at the Salahadin Governate's Office has overcome the renovation issues as well as any other educational and facility needs.
All three schools are open and students started classes in late October even though renovations are ongoing. Al Hafeth had its ribbon cutting ceremony 15 October 2003 and Al Mithaq's & Al Muloud's ribbon cutting ceremony took place 13 January 2004. These special events were very positive and meaningful. Both the Iraqi educators & US soldiers acknowledged that the spirit of cooperation, respect, & assistance were essential to secure a free & prosperous Iraqi society. A society built by the children of the rebuilt schools. Thanks to Operation: Pencil Box. Both Iraqi teachers & US Soldiers have hope that this vision will be realized.
As Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 winds down; unit representatives still plan on visiting schools twice a month and helping them with their needs before a battle handoff is conducted with OIF 2 units. Keep in mind that a school visit is no easy task. It is treated as important as any other mission due to its complexities surrounding soldiers' safety and vehicle / equipment needs. All four units involved adhere to the "One Team/One Fight" to make their Operation: Pencil Box a success.
553rd CSB pencil drop
553rd CSB pencil drop
553rd CSB pencil drop