Hayat School Opening Proves Americans Care
By Sgt. 1st Class Donald Sparks, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
TIKRIT, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2006 As he loaded his Humvee with school supplies donated by people in the United States, Army Capt. Dan Ruecking couldn't hold back his enthusiasm.
Boxes of crayons, color markers, rulers, pencils and notebooks filled his vehicle. Within minutes of his arrival in Hayat, Iraq, the supplies would be passed out to needy Iraqi children in the small village.
Ruecking, commander of Howitzer Battery, 1st "Tiger" Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Jan. 14 to mark the opening of a school that was renovated as part of a civil-military operations project by the unit.
"This is very rewarding," said Ruecking, from Elmhurst, Ill. "When you get to come to a school opening, it's thrilling to see the kids' reaction coming to a better school than what they had before."
Nearly 200 of the village's townspeople were on hand for the festive occasion, which included musicians playing horns and drums. They also participated in a traditional dance as part of the celebration.
The school opening was the seventh school in Tiger Squadron's area of operations, Army Capt. Kenneth Woods, an information operations officer in the unit, said. The unit has spent $220,000 in contracts to renovate the schools.
"We find the worst schools in our area, and then we fix them up," Woods said. "We look at the condition of a school's infrastructure, how many students attend the school, the size of the school, and what materials and services the school needs."
The Hayat Primary School renovation began Nov. 1 and included expanding the school from four classrooms to eight. A separate room was added for a generator, and the school's septic waste system was repaired. The overall cost for the project was $39,000.
The school's opening signaled a new beginning for the children of the village and an appreciation for the coalition forces, the school's headmaster, Salim Jendy, said.
"This school is very important for our children and gives them a better place to learn," Jendy said. "Education is key to Iraq's future, and this school is a small step towards building our country. We're very grateful for the American soldiers for doing this for us. The happiness on the children's faces speaks enough."
Swarmed by dozens of tiny hands reaching for the gifts of school supplies, Ruecking and several Iraqi soldiers were cornered by the children trying to take home an educational souvenir.
At the same time, Army 1st Lt. Ryan Poyant, Howitzer Battery executive officer, took part in the village traditional dance and was embraced with hugs and smiles.
"We are influencing the kids, and we're demonstrating that our relationships with Iraqis are positive," Ruecking said. "These school projects are important in making that happen. It's really important to show that we care about the people and we want to help everybody."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Donald Sparks is assigned to the 3rd U.S. Cavalry.)