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Interview with Charles Kubic

Aired August 23, 2003 - 07:18   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, much of the news coming out of Iraq has not been good, but in the thick of it all are the U.S. forces, trying to rebuild the country. And as you see here, the plan is to open schools. These children are part of those schools now going back to school. There are four of them that have reopened a little bit earlier today.
We want to talk with Rear Admiral Charles Kubic. He is the commander of the 1st Naval Construction Division involved with this exciting feat.

Admiral Kubic, are you there? Can you hear me?

REAR ADM. CHARLES R. KUBIC, COMMANDER, 1st NAVAL CONSTRUCTION DIVISION (on phone): I can sure hear you very well, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. We want to let our viewers and listeners this morning know that there is a little bit of a delay as we speak to you out of Baghdad, so want to let them know that it's going to take us a little while to get our questions back and forth to one another.

Tell us about what your role has been in reopening these schools.

KUBIC: Well, Heidi, the former regime used to punish communities by trashing the schools and closing them, and oftentimes using them as headquarters for their Fedayeen Saddam, and would even turn classrooms into torture chambers.

When Navy Seabees came and started working to revitalize the schools, it instantly builds trust and friendship with the Iraqi people as they saw us trying to help their children and give them a better future.

COLLINS: How did you go about doing this?

KUBIC: Well, initially we did it with our own troop labor. But then, as a part of the strategy to restart their own construction industry, we began to work side by side with Iraqi contractors, actually using money that belonged to the former regime. And today we opened four schools that were completely renovated by contractors, with Seabees just overseeing and supervising the work.

COLLINS: So what is the reaction, then, when something like this takes place from the local community? We are just looking at some video of the children interacting with the soldiers, appear to be very excited. What is the reaction?

KUBIC: Well, I think you all may have missed a great story here today, and hopefully I can describe it in words. But it was overwhelming. And the one school that we opened was the oldest school in the town of Ad Diwaniya, and their largest school. It was built originally in 1930, and had last been renovated in 1958. We had hundreds of families turn out there for a school that will eventually provide learning for about 1,000 high school boys.

And in the midst of the ceremony, a -- really, a surprise happened. It was mostly men in the audience, and mostly men speaking. But a young girl about 12 or 13 years old got up in the middle of it and was offered the podium and gave a very eloquent speech thanking the forces and saying that now and into the future, her mother and her sisters could be teachers.

And it was very, very heartwarming and brought a lot of those men to tears.

COLLINS: Admiral Kubic, do you find this sort of reaction particularly remarkable, I'm sure from a 12-year-old girl, but do you hear these similar words from other people as you continue your work in Iraq?

KUBIC: Every day. I would say particularly in the areas that we have worked in, we built a lot of trust and friendship, and everywhere we go, the Iraqi people are glad to see us, and opening their hearts to us. And they understand that we're here to help them and they're here to work side by side with us.

COLLINS: In your opinion, what do you see in the future of not only this relationship, but on the continuing course for rebuilding Iraq?

KUBIC: Well, there's still a lot of work to be done. I think that what we've been able to do is to restart the Iraqi construction industry in the areas that we've been working. Contractors have been able to reassemble their crews, and they're very, very thankful for that.

As the investment continues to flow in, hopefully from other nations, I believe the Iraqi people will be more than able to take care of themselves. It's just a matter of restarting their economy and letting the economic freedom and the new democracy that they have sort of push aside the old ways and overwhelm those few that would still try to disrupt things.

COLLINS: Quickly, there is a quote in "TIME" magazine from L. Paul Bremer, as you know, the U.S. -- top U.S. administrator in Iraq, who says, "I don't accept the definition of a country in chaos. Most of this country is at peace." Has that been your assessment?

KUBIC: Well, that's for sure. I've been up here since the early days of the war, and every day, every week the country returns to normal. We actually cut the ribbon on four schools and three banks today. And everywhere people were out, commerce was flourishing, and but for the few trouble spots that you hear about, the rest of the country is coming back strong.

COLLINS: So tell me about the kids. You've got these four schools that have opened, you also say three banks. Are the kids excited?

KUBIC: Oh, very excited. In fact, they got a number of them together and asked them if they wanted to stay on vacation, or if they were ready to get back to school, and they -- everybody was cheering, ready to get back to school. And I asked them, now that they had a new school, would they work even harder? And they all sort of cheered and said yes.

And then I finally asked, you know, which one of them someday wanted to be president of Iraq? And they sat there very silent until one brave boy stuck his hand up in the air, and then pretty soon they all wanted to be the president of Iraq.

So again, just the same as kids in the United States. It just felt like I was a Scoutmaster again, and all the kids were just running around cheering. And it was a great day here in Iraq.

COLLINS: Well, I do hope that we have gotten at least part of the story, certainly, through your eyes. Rear Admiral Charles Kubic, we certainly appreciate your time this morning in sharing with us the opening of four schools in Iraq. Thanks so much, sir.


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