CAMP EDSON, Iraq -- School's out for summer - or is it? Professors from Al Qadisiya University in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, haven't lost their will to teach despite the school closing in early March and the campus property being damaged by looting. Marines from the 1st Force Service Support Group helped professors of the university's Veterinarian Science Department start their summer semester on time by hauling desks from the university campus to an off-campus animal laboratory.
To use the off-campus lab, the veterinary professors needed about 100 desks for the 300-student department - that's where 1st Force Service Support Group civil affairs personnel came in to help.
On April 25, the unit loaded two truckloads of desks from the main campus, which is now occupied by coalition forces. Alongside the head of the department and other professors, the civil affairs Marines drove to the off-campus lab site and were greeted with open arms and cheerful faces by other professors and children.
The Marines and Iraqis unloaded the desks together and the professors expressed great thanks to the Marines for their help.
"The people were excited and happy to see what the Marines did. They can't wait to tell the people in Ad Diwaniyah - they will be very appreciative," said Mahir Shaouna, an Iraqi translator and liaison for the coalition forces.
Nearly all the campus buildings at Al Qadisiya University were damaged by looting that started on April 7 after Iraqi and coalition forces passed through the area. Marines who first inspected the site found most of the windows and doors either removed or broken. Electrical outlets and light fixtures were ripped out of the walls. Computer equipment was stolen, and large amounts of textbooks and educational equipment across the campus were burned, broken or taken.
Marines moved onto the campus April 18 to use it as a logistical supply area. Since then, the Marines have allowed professors back on the facility to retrieve any documents and personal effects the looters might have left unharmed. Coordination has begun between the 1st FSSG's engineer and the university's facility manager to use local labor to come in and repair much of the damage caused by the looting.
"We are here to support their education and give them a sense of hope that things will be returned to a normal lifestyle again," says Lt. Col. Valerie E. Thomas, 1st FSSG civil affairs liaison officer. "Hopefully the message they will take back to their neighbors and friends is that we are good and humble people and that we are doing everything we can to get the Iraqi people back on their feet," the Juneau, Alaska native said.
"That is a huge message."