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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A new dawn for women's education in Salah ad Din Province

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – The hallways of a grade school were uncharacteristically silent and absent of students as they had been for months prior to this day. Despite the vacancy, the classrooms had many new additions. Rows of desks created straight lines across the rooms, with tables at the front of each room fit for an instructor. A small, empty field with a soccer goal at either end alluded to the location of many future games. At the entrance to the school grounds, a bright red ribbon hung between the fence posts, glimmering in the sun.

Two pairs of hands grasped the scissors, parted the blades and closed them around the ribbon, snipping it in two. On Sept. 20, the Al Samad grade school was officially re-opened after months of renovation.

Immediately following the ribbon-cutting for Al Samad, Lt. Col. Donald Brown, the battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, and Arif Mutter, from the Tikrit City Council, toured the school before moving to a building adjacent to the schoolyard where a second red ribbon awaited them. The Abeer Ul-Mar’ah Institute for Women was also opening its doors for enrollment.

Both schools, located in Al Alam in the Salah ad Din Province, Iraq, were projects 2AAB, 25th Inf. Div. inherited from previous units, so the brigade’s involvement was limited to tracking the projects and ensuring the contractors produced quality work that adhered to their timelines.

“The brigade’s role was to make sure we track everything that we inherited and to close those contracts out,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Wolfe, an Orlando Fla. native and the civil affairs officer for 1-27 Inf. Reg. “Since we didn’t have initial ownership of this in the entire process we needed to find the statements of work and make sure these contractors were building and delivering the product they were contracted with.”

Al Samad will have standard curricula teaching children the core courses found in any other grade school. The Abeer Ul-Mar’ah Institute for Women is a vocational institute designed with the intention of teaching women viable skills that will make them competitive in certain occupational fields.

“Abeer Ul-Mar’ah Institute for Women was a partnership between the University of Tikrit and the Tikrit City Council,” 1st Lt. Wolfe said. “It’s like a vocational school for women who want to learn certain skills like sewing and working with computers.”

“That’s what it’s specifically designed for, to give women without opportunity the skills to be able to work in Iraq,” he said.

Admission for the women’s institute is free, and eligibility for enrollment into the grade school is based on zoning guidelines similar to those in the United States. Children can be enrolled in Al Samad provided that they fall into the school’s zoning perimeters for that district.

The Warrior brigade, in true advise-and-assist fashion, assumed a supervisory role while the city of Tikrit delivered these schools to its people to meet their needs. Through the working partnership between the University of Tikrit and the Tikrit City Council, the women’s institute is shedding another ray of light in the dawn of a new, self-reliant Iraq.

Two small children approached Lt. Col. Brown following the ribbon-cutting ceremony carrying large bouquets of flowers expressing their gratitude to him and the “Wolfhounds” for their assistance in ensuring they have a place to learn and grow. Though the battalion’s involvement in the projects was limited, there was a sense of gratification felt by those present for the momentous openings of these educational institutions.

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