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NMCB-7 Makes Schools Operational in An Nasiriyah

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS030716-09

Release Date: 7/16/2003 10:13:00 AM

By Sgt. Christopher Carney, 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

NASIRIYAH, Iraq (NNS) -- While the headmasters from schools around Nasiriyah were attending a meeting in the auditorium of the Al-Goumhoria secondary school, members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 7 from Gulfport, Miss., were quietly working down the hall. The Seabees were here restoring utilities for the school.

Al-Goumhoria, like most Iraqi schools, is spartan compared to most western schools. It is a two-story brick and plaster building that offers space for classrooms but little else. Windows are missing. Doors are broken. Lights are gone.

The typical classroom has only desks, chairs and a blackboard. That is why the Seabees are here.

"We're putting up lights and fans, running electrical wiring and changing electric panels," said Construction Electrician 3rd Class Matthew Deyoe from Madison, Wis.

Al-Goumhoria is the third school that the NMCB-7 Seabees have repaired. They spend about three to four days per school improving them and bringing them up to a level where teaching is possible.

"We try to make it a little more comfortable for the teachers and students," said Construction Electrician 1st Class Eric Carpenter. "This means working on lighting, fans for cooling, and on the water."

The teachers agree that having the basics, like running water and lighting, makes a big difference. The average crew is about 15 workers, and they work between eight and 10 hours a day. "This is the largest school we have done. We will be here about six days," said Carpenter.

The Al-Goumhoria school is not only special because of its size, but for it's reputation, as well. "It's the number one school in the area for producing scholars. It is a top school that puts out students with the highest test scores on entrance exams," said Lt. Jim Brown.

This helps to prove that looks can be deceiving. One classroom has three broken windows that have been barred up. The door is missing its handle. The walls are bare and plaster colored. There are 18 old wooden table and bench combinations that sit two people each. But on the worn blackboard is a chemical equation for the effect of ammonia on a complex carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecule.

"We know that the environment doesn't create good students; teachers create good students," Brown said, which is why this school may receive special attention.

Al-Goumhoria might be improved to modern western standards, including possible air conditioning and computers. Then it would serve as a model for what other schools can become.

The only downside to this plan is that security in Nasiriyah may not be adequate to protect the school from looting.

"We want to make the schools attractive to students but not to invite thieves," said Brown. That is why improvements to schools are focusing on the essentials.

The Seabees also have to be careful when choosing the location of their project schools. They must not concentrate on one area of town and create ill feelings in the parts of town not being worked on.

The Seabees have a big job in front of them.

There are 1,037 schools in the Dhiqar Province with 286,290 students attending. In Nasiriyah alone, there are 331 schools with between 150-600 students each.

While the Seabees may not get to all of the facilities, they want to "work on all the schools we can and make it better," said Brown. "We want to show the people what we can do."

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