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Soldiers Renovate Day Care Center in Iraq

By Spc. Chad D. Wilkerson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2003 – The rebuilding of Iraq continued Oct. 25 with the reopening of a day care center in the Abu Ghuraib district here.

Soldiers from the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Abilene, Texas, part of Task Force 1st Armored Division, have spent the past several months working with Abu Ghuraib community leaders rebuilding schools and establishing community relations.

Capt. Thane Thompson, a team chief with 490th, brought his team to the grand reopening of the Al Firdus day care center to see the finished product of all their weeks of hard work.

"The center was very badly looted during and after hostilities in the country, and there were even rumors of land mines in the backyard here," said Spc. Ciria Crawford, civil affairs specialist with the 490th and project manager for day care center reconstruction.

Months ago, the team, using Commander's Emergency Response Program funds, began working on the day care center as well as several other community buildings and services in the neighborhood.

Contractors were hired to do the majority of the building restoration, including painting, plumbing and electrical work, said Crawford. Engineers also visited the center to clear the lot behind it of any possible unexploded ordnance.

Hiring local Iraqi contractors for reconstruction efforts, officials said, puts money into the Iraqi economy, helping local unemployment and allowing Iraqis to take ownership of their own communities.

"This place was completely gutted, and we facilitated the restoration and supervised all the progress," said Thompson. "From the basic utilities, to toys, bottles and cribs, the center has been completely outfitted and is now ready to open."

Necessary funds, expertise and determination are essential ingredients in the U.S. Army's recipe for success. But even with those elements, the 490th has had no easy time with their work in Abu Ghuraib.

While traveling down a main thoroughfare, Crawford pointed out and explained in detail many of the improvised explosive device incidents unit members had heard, seen or been informed of in the area. The bulletproof windshields of one of the team's "up- armored" Humvees even have cracks from shrapnel during a mortar attack on the forward operating base where the team stays nightly.

"There have been numerous IEDs around the area during the times we have been working here," Crawford said. "We had to adjust the route to get here safely, and have traveled down many alleyways where rocks were thrown at us."

The fact that Thompson, Crawford and their team have endured the hardships and have not been deterred from their mission will surely mean a better life and a brighter future for the Iraqi citizens they have helped, they said. Both said they are proud of the work they have done, and that the welfare of the Iraq people is their motivation.

"The people I have spoken with here are very appreciative on the whole," said Thompson. "This is one of 10 projects we have going on right now, and getting these schools and facilities back into operation is not only beneficial, but essential to getting Iraq back to normalcy. It is definitely a good feeling knowing that we are helping them."

Crawford agreed. "At times you can get frustrated when locals are throwing rocks and cursing at you when you are there to help them," said Crawford. "But then you see the children and the progress we are making. When I see the little children smiling, like today, here at the day care center, I can see the future of Iraq in their faces. That is how I stay motivated."

(Army Spc. Chad D. Wilkerson is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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