Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Oct. 27, 2008 - When students in Tarmiyah, Iraq, returned to school in September, they were welcomed by new classrooms full of new furniture and supplies. Their school, northwest of Baghdad, also had new electrical and sewer systems.
After conducting a final assessment of improvements made to the Huda Teacher's School on Oct. 20, Army 1st Lt. Erik Peterson, a native of Littleton Colo., who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, met with the contractor, paid him the remaining funds for completion of his work and thanked him for a job well done.
This school is one of many reconstruction projects throughout Tarmiyah designed to provide the city's residents more opportunity and a better way of life.
"When we first arrived here in December 2007, I visited a girl's school that had no bathrooms," Peterson said. "Now the schools have brand new classrooms, lights, chalkboards, furniture and sanitary bathrooms with septic systems. The students now have the ability to wash their hands."
The children are attending much better schools and receiving a higher quality education, he added.
Fatima, a 6th grade student who attends one of the renovated schools, said her school is much better than it was.
"The doors have been painted, and we have lights and fans in our classrooms," she said. "We learn about animals, reading, writing and how to speak a little bit of English. I love going to school."
About $3 million will be invested into the reconstruction of Tarmiyah, with 13 school renovations, a media center, a bank, an ambulance center, road paving and solar lights among the scheduled projects.
Funding for the reconstruction is provided through the provincial council and the Iraqi Commanders Emergency Relief Program, or ICERP, which allows the local government to get money for projects quickly and efficiently and to participate in the planning process.
"ICERP is Iraqi money managed by coalition forces so that we can use our paperwork system to spend and track where everything goes," Peterson said. "Unlike the United States government, the government of Iraq's current budget system is in the initial stages of development for delivery of a capital budget to the [communities] from the provincial level."
Although the system is still developing, Peterson said, those involved with the reconstruction projects are vital to success and have shown they have the planning and technical expertise behind them to take on large projects and ensure they are quality projects that will last well into the future.
"We have shown them a taste of our democratic system, but no matter how much we show them, we must understand that their culture is different than ours, and it is up to them to decide what they want to take away from that," Peterson said.
While the residents of Tarmiyah are very pleased with the reconstruction projects, none of the success would have been possible without the improved security in the region.
"The most significant improvement to this city is security," Peterson said, and he credited the "Sons of Iraq" citizen security group and Iraqi police and soldiers with playing a key role in attaining and providing a secure environment.
"Foreign armies will never be able to provide the quality of security that its own populace can provide," the lieutenant said.
With more than half of the projects completed, quality of life has improved immensely, but there is still work to be done, Peterson said. Planning is focused now on essential services and possibly a new sewer system, he added.
"This development of this city will continue," he said. "And in five months, it will be completely different from what it is now."
(Army Pfc. Lyndsey Dransfield serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)