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U.S. Marines: Task to Rebuild Iraq

 

By Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

AL KUT, Iraq – In the aftermath of the war, Iraqi people are left without any kind of a police force or community assistance programs. Forced to rely solely on themselves for simple things like water, food, fuel and civil peace, the future of most communities, like Al Kut, is unsure. Elements of Task Force Tarawa, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are taking the first steps in restoring safety to the community and helping the locals step out of the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s former regime.

The two missions TFT has taken on recently are clearing anti-aircraft artillery and munitions from a public park and salvaging abandoned fuel trailers to transport fresh water to civilians.

“We’re trying to have the lives of the people here return to as normal a state as possible,” said Lt. Col. Doug P. Thomas, the commanding officer of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Headquarters Group and the TFT headquarters commandant. The Potomac, Md., native, continued “although many of these people have only known the oppression of Saddam’s regime their whole lives.”

Thomas and other Marine from MHG’s motor transport and explosive ordnance disposal units spent two days picking up explosive ordnance in the public park, and removing 16 anti-aircraft artillery guns. Using heavy machinery, the guns were lifted onto trucks and taken out of the park to be destroyed in a remote area.

“What better place to put these weapons than in a place where children and families congregate,” said Gunnery Sgt. Alan Weivel, the Non-commissioned officer in charge of the removal. “The (Iraqi Army) knew we couldn’t bomb this place, so we could never destroy the weapons from above. So we have to do it by land.”

Adding that kids and ammunition don’t mix, Weivel stated the kids were playing with the unexploded ordnance. Weivel and other Marines feel they did a great thing by removing the weapons and ammunition so families could congregate on the park’s grounds again without fear.

”It feels good to make a difference, to know that what you did actually helped a family out there,” said Cpl. Joseph C. Berg, a motor transport mechanic with TFT. The Mobile, Ala. Native, continued “the kids we saw today all thanked us, and I hope they enjoy their park again.”

Inside the park was not the only place Marines found rusted out machinery. On the sides of roads, it is not an uncommon sight to see broken down or stuck vehicles, abandoned by their owners.

“We’re taking these two junk trucks, which were both sunk past their wheels in the mud, digging them out, fixing them up, and giving them back to the Iraqi people to transport drinking water in,” said Chief Warrant Officer Travis C. Michell, a motor transport maintenance officer with TFT. The Charleston, S.C. native went on to say “it was nine and a half hours of tough work just to get one truck out, but when we get it up and running and turn it over to the people, it’ll be worth it.”

Six members of a radio battalion in TFT used shovels, chains, and ingenuity to get the fuel tanker out of the ground. Pulling with a 7-ton truck and a humvee, they freed the fuel-leaking trailer from the muddy, diesel soaked earth. Once it was freed, locals from the village of Sbah, a community on the outskirts of Al Kut, stopped by to see if they could fill their barrels with the precious fuel.

Michell explained the Marines had no need for the fuel inside, so it was good that the villagers would get use out of it before the truck was turned from a fuel truck into a water truck.

“These people can’t get gas out here. Saddam took all the oil and gave it to the military, so the fuel we’re giving away today to these people is probably worth a couple month’s work for them,” said Sgt. Matthew E. Schettler, an Arab linguist with the radio battalion. The Charlotte, N.C. native, continued “These villagers will use the fuel for their tractors and generators and trucks. This free fuel is a real find, something they’ll tell their grandchildren about.”

Schettler spoke with the village leader, Abu Jasam, about the fuel.

“He says it is a great blessing to get all this fuel. He’s filling up every barrel in the village with it,” Schettler translated for Jasam. “They are all very happy that Saddam’s rule is over. They’re looking forward to a new life.”

The Iraqi people are all very happy we are here, and the words Marines hear over and over are ‘Bad Saddam, good Bush,’ said Thomas. The Marines are glad they are making a difference, and look forward to the next time they can lend a hand to help rebuild the surrounding communities, he added.