AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq -- Hundreds of children left school with a smile today when Marines and sailors from the 11th MEU and soldiers from 451st Civil Affairs Battalion augmenting the MEU, distributed more than 1,500 backpacks here, Oct. 23, in five different schools.
As the 11th MEU team visited each school, they were greeted politely with excitement and courtesy by both faculty and students.
"This is a good initiative that will foster friendly relations between the U.S. and the Iraqi people," said Hakima Atheem, principal of the Al-Nada kindergarten school. "It's a gift from America to our children -- the future of Iraq."
The children from the kindergarten school received backpacks with cartoon characters printed on them, while the older children in the four primary schools were given backpacks tailored for either boys or girls.
"I like the backpack very much," said Saraab Kudair, a 13-year-old 6th grader from the Al-Nawsaim primary school for girls. "I'm very satisfied. Everything I need is in it."
Each pack came filled with school supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, a ruler and other essential items.
"I think that we've generated quite a bit of trust towards coalition forces, which will make it easier to accomplish other missions in Diwaniyah in the future," said Lt. Col. Ted A. Ruane, commanding officer, Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 11, 11th MEU. "If we start with the young kids and teach them that Americans are good people, that we're here to help them, I think that will go a long way for both their country and ours."
The $25,000 which funded the project came from the Commander's Emergency Response Program and was contracted out to three local contractors who produced a total of 4,000 backpacks.
Since the backpacks were received, the MSSG-11 commanding officer and members of the civil affairs team have visited a total more than eight schools and handed out more than 2,500 backpacks.
"This has been one of the best missions the Marines and sailors of the MSSG have taken part in since we've been to Iraq," Ruane said. "We've had a lot of volunteers to come out and distribute these backpacks."