RED HORSE Airmen Give Iraqis Reason for Hope
on Friday, 05 September 2008

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By Senior Master Sgt. Trish Freeland
United States Air Forces Central, Baghdad Media Outreach

HAWR RAJAB, Iraq – Six months ago, the town of Hawr Rajab was a mere shell of its former self. Local shops were closed, their windows boarded up. The streets were abandoned. Homes were badly damaged. The town was once an al Qaida in Iraq stronghold where violence and intimidation forced residents to flee their homes. But today Hawr Rajab is a different place.

Air Force Capt. Michael Askegren, Patrol Base Stone site officer in charge, is deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla. He had an eye-witness view of the city’s gradual transformation.

“It’s a recovering city. You can see the progress,” said the Mandeville, La. native.

“At 10 in the morning the streets are full. Vendors, iron workers and mechanics are all out working,” he said.

The town’s rebirth is the result of a mix of factors that include improved security conditions, the help of concerned local citizens groups and a special construction training program created by Multi-National Corps-Iraq called Village of Hope.

The program targets former members of the Sons of Iraq, Iraqi fighters who agreed to lay down their weapons and join forces with the U.S. to defeat their common enemy—AQI. Through this program, U.S. Air Force engineers from the 557 Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron teach the Iraqis basic construction skills while helping them rebuild their community.

“Not all former Sons of Iraq members will be able to join the Iraqi army or Iraqi security forces,” said Askegren. “This program provides another form of technical training to help them get jobs in the community as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers.”

So far 210 students have enrolled in the program, 133 of whom have already completed the course. The first group of graduates got busy renovating a home that was damaged in a battle with insurgents.

“The houses selected for remodeling had all been damaged by al Qaida,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Filasky, deployed from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. “We stripped them down to nothing and built them back up,” he said.

“Some of these houses hadn’t been renovated in 30 years so we’re trying to bring them up to modern standards,” said the Middletown, Del. native.

In addition to remodeling houses, the students are renovating a community school for boys.

“For this part of the project, we’re bringing in special contractors to show the students how some of Iraq’s more modernized cities are doing things,” said Filasky.

For some of the trainees, the Village of Hope program has helped expand community resources by giving students the courage and confidence to take advantage of other opportunities. Some of the students can even make extra money working for Iraqi contractors in the evenings.

“We’ve had about 15 students leave the program,” said Capt. Askegran. “Some opened businesses in Hawr Rajab. One electrician opened a generator business and one of the supervisor course graduates got a job with the government of Iraq.”

While teaching and advising local civilians is out of the norm for RED HORSE units, these engineering trainers have given their Iraqi students skills that will benefit them the rest of their lives.

“I’m so proud to have this opportunity for myself and for everyone,” said Mustaffa Jabar Ali, a student in the electrical program. ” I hope the program spreads throughout Iraq so we can rebuild our entire country,” he added.

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Last update: Friday, 05 September 2008

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