Teaching skills come in handy in Iraq for local instructor
Martinsville High School teacher Jon Marion giving economic lessons in Iraq

By Brian Culp

Jon Marion teaches an economics class at Martinsville High School in addition to social studies, U.S. history and government.
Today, though he is more than 6,700 miles from home, he finds himself still teaching a familiar subject — just to a different audience. Maj. Marion, who is assistant operations officer and brigade fire support officer for the 76th Brigade in Iraq, is part of the group that is helping Iraqis start small businesses in an attempt to jumpstart the local economy.

In part, they are doing this by attempting to start a vocational/technical school. The school has its start as a host nation business center where Marion and others are walking locals through the process of starting businesses and mentoring them for managerial skills to run businesses.

“As a Guard unit, we’re uniquely qualified to do this because we hold civilian jobs and have been through the managerial classes and tests that the Iraqis are going to face,” Marion said.

It helps that his students are eager to learn. “In many ways, it’s similar to teaching people there,” Marion said. “We’re finding that they are quite ready to run on more initiatives than we can get started at once.”

And the Iraqis are quickly finding success, especially as violence decreases.

“Right now, I’d say it’s going pretty well,” Marion said.

“The area we’re in has really had a downswing in the violence, and we’ve held several business expo meetings that have been very well attended.

“The feedback has been very positive to this initiative. It’s a chance for them to stand their economy back up and make a living.”
With the success he sees, Marion said, he thinks their mission in Iraq will have quick results.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s going to take all that long,” Marion said. “I think they’re proving to be capable and this will take off. As the Iraqi government continues to strengthen its position and security grows, they’ll flourish, and there will be more spinoffs.”
He is also excited about leaving behind a positive situation.

“I think we fell into a unique opportunity here as a brigade and we’ve jumped in with both feet,” Marion said. “It’s not often you bring the right skill sets to a situation like this.

“If we’re successful during our remaining tour, we will leave quite a legacy behind. Here we have a chance to rebuild a nation, and that’s something you don’t have many opportunities to do.”

While he’s enjoying what he’s doing in Iraq, Marion is eager to get home to see his wife, Lita, and sons Christian, 10, and Andrew, 9. He is scheduled to return sometime toward the end of the year.

When he gets home, Marion said he is eager to put the lessons he’s learned in Iraq into his classroom.
“It’s certainly going to give a whole new set of interesting stories for the classroom — especially economics,” Marion said. “Students always ask, ‘Whydo I need to take economics?’

“We’ve been putting a lot of it into practical application here.”