BAGHDAD, Iraq, February 9, 2006 - The convoy moved along the criss-crossing routes that turn eastern Baghdad into a maze. The troops inside watched their sectors of fire, rifles loaded, ready for anything that might occur.
This isn't a raid or a combat patrol, but it's a mission just as important as any undertaken here in eastern Baghdad .
We kinda' balance between the civil affairs portion, the shaking hands and talking to people, and providing essential services, said CPT Shelia Matthews, civil affairs officer for the 4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 506th Regimental Combat Team. The term we use is essential services, but what it covers is sewer, water, electric, academic and trash, Matthews said
Soldiers from 4-320th FA, civil affairs, filled up the trunks of their humvees and headed out to provide free school supplies to Iraqi children.
I like the Americans, said one 12 year-old, who was adamant about not having his picture taken. My teachers tell me don't speak with Americans, but I do, he said, in almost flawless English. Everybody here likes Americans. Look see, everybody's happy.
We're out about five times a week, said PFC Charlotte Becker, a light-wheel mechanic for 4-320th FA. It's not as easy as everyone thinks it is. There are people out here that want us out, said Becker. It's not bad though. I actually really enjoy coming out here, she said.
It doesn't take very long for word to spread that the troops are in town. Before long, these soldiers are mobbed with children of all ages.
After a couple of stops, all of the school supplies had disappeared, along with Iraqi flags that the soldiers had passed out. We do a lot of humanitarian missions. We go to a lot of schools, a lot of mosques, said Becker.