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Nebraska Assistant Principal Helps Iraqi Schools

By Pfc. Thomas Day, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 27, 2003 – The winds of change blew awfully hard for one 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) reservist last winter.

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Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hart of Lincoln, Neb., talks to a class of school children at a school in northern Iraq. A junior high school assistant principal and former English teacher, Hart is deployed to Iraq with his Nebraska National Guard unit. Photo by Pfc. Thomas Day, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hart of Lincoln, Neb., got deployment orders with his Nebraska National Guard unit, the 41st Rear Area Operations Center, in February. A month later, Hart left his wife, Sharon, and sons Austin, 6, and Brandon, 2. He also left hundreds of other children he cares for five days a week: his students at the Norfolk Junior High School in Norfolk, Neb.

Hart has been an assistant principal at the junior high for two years, after nine years as an English teacher. Now the University of Nebraska graduate is getting the chance to work with children all over again. Hart's unit has overseen a number of school projects in northern Iraq under the command of Col. Gerald Dolinish of the 101st Corps Support Group.

"It's a lifestyle. Everywhere I go, I try to be around kids, because I love what they're about." Hart said. "When I'm teaching, just to see a light bulb go off in a kid's head 'Oh, I got it' that makes my day. That's why I do what I do back home. It's not just for the money."

Hart said he welcomed the opportunity to work with schools once his unit moved in with the corps support group in April.

"I was really excited about it," he said. "To me, it's exciting because we get to go out and we get to touch kid's lives."

The 41st has been tasked for the last several months with contracting local construction companies to rebuild schools ruined by years of neglect by Saddam Hussein's regime. Unit members' families back in Nebraska also are involved, donating notebooks, pens, pencils, markers and other school supplies.

With Iraqi students back in class since Oct. 1, Hart said he already has seen a turnaround. "What I do find encouraging is kids are back in school," he said. "What I do find encouraging is teachers are getting paid. What I do find encouraging is a lot of schools do have supplies.

"The local system here was controlled by the Baath Party, and all emphasis was on praising Saddam," he continued. "Since we've shown up, I think we've done an adequate job of flushing that material out."

Hart said he misses his students and his school in Nebraska, and that he does not expect to be home before the end of the year. Of course, the teacher in Hart hasn't gone anywhere just because he's wearing desert camouflage uniform and not a dress shirt and tie.

"Education is the cornerstone to any community," he said. "If you have an educated public, if you have people who can think for themselves, you're going to be OK."

(Army Pfc. Thomas Day is assigned to the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSgt. 1st Class Michael Hart of Lincoln, Neb., assigned to the 41st Rear Area Operations Center with the Nebraska National Guard, helps Iraqi children at a site in northern Iraq with a coloring book. Families of the unit's soldiers donated coloring books, markers and other school supplies. Photo by Pfc. Thomas Day, USA  
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