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FSSG Marines help Iraqis repair looted, damaged university;

13 May 2003 | Cpl. Jeremy M. Vought

Students and faculty of Al Qadisiyah University here may be able to begin a new school year this fall thanks to a construction project headed by the 1st Force Service Support Group, though heavy damage by looters threatened to keep it closed indefinitely.

The re-construction of the science and technology school began May 5 and will pay local Ad Diwaniyah contractors and laborers nearly 130 thousand dollars in captured Iraqi regime funds to rebuild the school.

Before hostilities began between coalition forces and Iraq, 1st FSSG staff discussed the need, after the end of hostilities, to identify humanitarian assistance projects to benefit the Iraqi people in a reasonable amount of time.

After being tasked to establish a supply base south of Baghdad, FSSG planners started looking for a place to setup. They came across the university campus, burned, looted and in complete ruin, and decided it was just what they were looking for - a place for a forward logistical support area as well as a humanitarian assistance project.

"It was the perfect civil-military operation," says Col. Darrell L. Moore, 1st FSSG Chief of Staff. "We had the coordination and assets capable of restoring the university to a functioning level and it was obvious that without our help the school wouldn't have opened for months or even years."

The school closed shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom began. After coalition forces took Baghdad, local looters stormed the university for "raw materials" such as doors, windows, electrical wiring, generators and bathroom porcelain, leaving the place in ruins, said Lt. Col. David M. McMiller, 1st FSSG engineering officer.

On April 18, the 1st Force Service Support Group secured and established Logistical Support Area Edson here at the university. Soon after, Moore enlisted Mahir Shaouna, FSSG command translator, to begin coordination with the university's faculty to find local contractors who could be hired to repair the campus buildings.

Nearly two weeks ago, a group of six contractors, four of whom had worked on the university in the past, were escorted around the grounds to assess the damage and estimate costs to replace windows, doors and other damaged infrastructure within the university, said McMiller, hailing from Orange County, Calif.

Within a week, contracts were drafted and each local company was paid in Iraqi currency, all seized from the former regime, totaling roughly 450 million Iraqi dinars with the current exchange rate. A condition of the contract was all work was to be finished within 30 days of the May 4 signing, Shaouna said.

Temporary identification cards were made and the next day a force of roughly 130 local Iraqis went to work on the campus, stripping, spackling, painting, installing windows and doors, and installing the campus' plumbing and electrical infrastructure.

Within the first 8 days nearly 30 percent of the work has been completed, according to Lt. Col. Emilio T. Rovira, construction supervisor and future operations officer for the FSSG Engineer Support Element.

The buildings are shaping up and the ruined campus is starting to look like a university again, explained Shaouna, from San Diego, Calif.

A bulk fuel company of 7th Engineer Support Battalion provides their Marines to monitor the workers for security aboard the campus. Interpreters are also present to translate issues and needs between the workers and the Marines.

While repairs continue at the school, 1st FSSG civil affairs Marines are working to support humanitarian assistance projects within Ad Diwaniyah such as transporting desks to an off-campus veterinarian school, and support to the local hospital.

According to Moore, the 1st FSSG plans to give the university back to the Iraqi community by August. Even though it will be back in the people's hands, Moore emphasizes much more work will be needed until all departments can resume classes here.

"Our developing efforts don't extend to such things as the countless amounts of books and school supplies that were destroyed and stolen. There will be a lot else that will have to be done by the Iraqi people," the Pryor, Okla., native said.
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