By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Col. Alauddin Mohialdeen Abdullah answered a question from a Meadows Elementary School fifth-grader Wednesday morning, his Arabic sprinkled with a few familiar phrases: "Nickelodeon," "Spongebob" and "Tom and Jerry."
Those didn't need translation.
During a visit to the school, the Iraq army colonel was asked what American shows and celebrities are popular among kids in his home country.
Meadows fifth-graders are video pen pals with kids in the Wasit Province in Eastern Iraq. They talk about their lives and ask questions about the other cultures. The exchange started thanks to an adopt-a-school partnership with the 41st Fires Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, led by Lt. Col. Timothy Bush.
Col. Dick Francey, the brigade's commander, visited Meadows Wednesday morning, bringing Abdullah and Brig. Gen. Abed Jebur Madhloom, two officers from the Wasit Province. The two have worked on the Iraqi side of the school partnership. They were accompanied by Chris Andrew, a translator who works alongside Francey in Iraq.
Fort Hood was the last part of a weeklong U.S. tour that included stops in Washington, D.C., and Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The general and colonel met with Meadows administrators, discussing the education systems in their respective areas. While there are obvious differences in the schools – size and facilities being the most notable – Principal Karol Carlisle said what she was most surprised by was how similar the kids were. They have the same interests and concerns, she added.
"They have the same life you have but in a different culture and different country," Abdullah told the fifth-graders.
Iraqi kids like Western desserts like ice cream and "they dress like you are now," he added.
Carlisle also said that dedication to children is not exclusive to one culture. It is apparent in the interaction, she said.
Abdullah told a group of fifth-graders that he has two children their ages. He and Madhloom snapped photos as they walked through the school, and the Iraqi colonel spoke with two pre-kindergarten children eating in the lunchroom.
Dedication to children is another thing that needs no translation – interaction makes it obvious, Carlisle said.
Visits like Wednesday's are important because "this is where we make the future," Andrew translated for Madhloom, who pointed toward the school. He plans on meeting with educators after returning to Iraq to discuss way they can prepare children like he saw at Meadows.
There are plans to expand the video pen pal program to another fifth-grade class and two fourth-grade classes, Carlisle said. Students are thrilled to hear voices of other children from around the world, she said and she encouraged other school administrators to embrace the idea.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.