"Operation Pencil Box" proceeding in Tikrit
Sitting inside a dusty office in a shrapnel-damaged building, Gerald Fox stares intently at his laptop, juggling the cost of electrical wiring, pipes, brick and mortar. In recent weeks, the 34-year-old U.S. Army sergeant has been working on a proposal to have nine schools rebuilt in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, at a cost of $243,300. He already has contracts for repairs to 14 other schools and has assessed 92 others. His work is part of a project designed to repair some of the 2,000 schools in the three Iraqi provinces controlled by the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. The aim is to have some schools ready by Oct. 1, when students go back to class.

"Operation Pencil Box" will also help provide many of the schools with pens, notebooks and other supplies gathered during a charity drive around Fort Hood, Texas, where the 4th ID is based. "We had an adopt-a-school program in towns surrounding Fort Hood, where soldiers help out at schools. We thought, why don’t we do this here?" Maj. Josslyn Aberle said. The idea came from the division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and was initially aimed at having units build a small number of model schools. It also sought to more closely involve soldiers with Iraqi society. "It’s engaging families at home and the soldiers here in something other than raids," said Maj. John Williamson, of Exeter, N.H., who is with the Army’s 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion. He said the troops were so enthusiastic about the project that it mushroomed and grew to 309 schools.

Many of the 4th Infantry Division troops in Tikrit have found themselves in an odd situation — they came to fight and are instead trying to restore order and repair public services. Unable to invade Iraq from the north as planned because of Turkish objections, the 4th ID instead found itself trying to win hearts and minds while working to suppress an active Iraqi resistance in Tikrit and surrounding provinces. Engineers maintained oil pipelines, water and electricity, signals officers took over telecommunications and doctors have been helping out with public health. They are trying to repair damage caused by neglect, 13 years of U.N. sanctions, America’s war to oust Saddam and the looting that followed the U.S.-led invasion. "Maybe this is part of the infantry now. Helping people who didn’t create this mess, deal with this mess," said [Captain Daryl] Carter, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Jay Nordlinger of National Review, to whom a hat tip is due for flagging this article, had this comment:
Let me remind you of something you already know, ladies and gentlemen: This is a most unusual nation, the United States. We are a most unusual "conqueror," a most unusual "occupier." Few Americans realize how exceptional we are in the history of the world. You don’t hear that kind of thing much in our schools — at least I didn’t, back in dear old Ann Arbor, where the posters of Che Guevara were plenteous and the air was thick with reefer.
What he said.
Posted by: Mike 2003-09-30