Village of Hope Training Center Graduates Final Class
on Monday, 29 September 2008

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By Pfc. Christopher McKenna
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

PATROL BASE STONE, Iraq – Sixty students graduated from the fourth and final Village of Hope training center rotation during a ceremony at Patrol Base Stone Sept. 25, 2008.

“The Village of Hope was part of a civil service corps program that took Sons of Iraq members from checkpoints and taught them useable trades that they can make a living with,” said Capt. Michael Askegren, 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron officer-in-charge of Village of Hope. “Not every SoI is going to make it into the Iraqi security forces, so the Village of Hope gives them an option to make a good living in legitimate ways.”

The first class graduated in May. Askegren noted progress made from one class to the next.

“When it started off, we had to build trust within the community and get them to believe that we are here to help and teach them something they can use,” said Askegren, a native of Mandeville, La. “Each class has steadily gotten better, and it all culminated with the graduation of the final class today.”

The day also saw the official reopening of the Almainn School for boys, which was remodeled through construction efforts of both contractors and graduates from the Village of Hope.

“Iraqi service workers did all of the work on the school,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael McKeen, from Rose Hill, Va., 557th ERHS, structure lead non-commissioned officer. “After their training, we put them straight to work. In the beginning, we had to do a lot of hands-on training with them, but after we got their first group of supervisors through their course, they kind of filled in our role.”

“After the first graduating class of the Village of Hope, we ran into the problem that we were having to continuously supervise the projects the graduates were involved in,” said Senior Airman Michael Hernandez, from Napa, Calif., 557th ERHS, supervisors’ course instructor.

The sharpest individuals from each class were placed into a supervisors’ course where they learned supervisory skills and responsibilities.

“Having actual supervisors out on the construction sites allowed [the coalition] to take a step back and let Iraqis train Iraqis,” McKeen said.

Since the inception of the Village of Hope, four classes have yielded a total of 210 graduates. The attendees are trained in construction, plumbing and electrical wiring. The supervisors learned to coordinate necessities and maintain equipment for the various trades.

Although no additional classes will be offered at the Village of Hope, coalition forces say good things lie ahead for Hawr Rajab.

“Though the training is complete, there are still renovations left to be done in the community,” Askergren said. “We’ve officially planted the seed to a new future, now it’s time for us to step back and watch it grow.”


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Last update: Monday, 29 September 2008

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