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US Fed News

Marines' Bond Evident With Iraqi Villagers

11 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 Hindustan Times. All rights reserved.

AL MADINAH, Iraq, Feb. 11 -- The U.S. Marine Corps issued the following official news story:

Local residents and Marines of 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment celebrated the completion of a village improvement project here with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 10, 2005.

Throughout the past seven months, 2/10 Marines worked with village leaders here to build working relationships and identify ways to improve the village's living conditions.

The battalion will be replaced by U.S. soldiers from the 2nd of the 112th Armor, a Texas-based National Guard unit.

The battalion invested more than $360,000 for the refurbishment of 32 homes, which provided residents with new septic and electrical systems. The projects improved the quality of life for the Iraqi people, and strengthened their local economy - many of them were hired to do the work themselves, according to Chief Warrant Officer Dwight Torres, the information operations officer for 2/10.

Prior to the upgrades, the village was in a state of decay, ignored by Saddam Hussein's regime for the past three decades, said Torres. The ground was covered in litter and the homes lacked such amenities as running water and electricity.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based battalion, which is at the end of a seven month deployment to Iraq, provides security for Camp Taqaddum, the headquarters base for 1st Force Service Support Group, and other U.S. military posts in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

As the Marines toured the homes, walls still carried the smell of fresh paint; previously open earth floors had been covered with a tile, and Persian rugs and plush couches added décor to the trailers.

"I don't believe this change," said Mamud, a villager whose new business grew from the changes the Marines had brought; he is now a furniture salesman. "I would never have believed my home would look like this."

But the upgrades made to this small village took more than money to complete, according to Torres.

Torres and his team of Marines have spent the deployment building relations and trust with the residents of Al Madinah - one of two local towns 2/10 has worked with in an effort to improve quality of life for the residents.

The battalion has also aided Al Kabani, a local fishing village, with a water pipeline system and a means to access electricity. They oversaw the contracting to have Kabani's school reconditioned, and had a soccer field made last fall.

During earlier visits to Al Madinah, the small village of 300 plus Iraqis, the Marines were greeted by apprehension and distrust. One elderly Iraqi woman in particular made her opinion of the U.S. military's presence in her village very apparent, recalled Torres, 36.

"She would ask us why we were here and was opposed to us being here," said Torres.

Now, her face lights up as the Marines approach her home and she invites them inside.

"We see their efforts for us," she said, through a translator. "Because of them, we feel safety here; I respect them."

She even allowed the Marines to use her front yard for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Her husband Sammy, along with Lt Col. Terence Brennan, commanding officer for 2/10, cut the ribbon.

"The biggest thing we delivered (here) is not toys or soccer balls or even new homes. It's hope," said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick T. Patton, the information operations chief and 33-year-old Fort Stockton, Texas, native.

"It's taken our own country 200 to 300 years to get where we are. They've had 35 years of oppression. It's going to take time, but they see hope, they are living the hope," said Torres, a Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, native. "They are living the progress right now."

The ribbon cutting symbolized a "mission complete" for 2/10's Marines, who will return to Camp Lejeune in coming weeks.

Following the ribbon cutting, Torres offered advice to 1/112th's soldiers who will continue to work with local Iraqi villages during what has been dubbed by many as Operation Iraqi Freedom III.

"Don't make promises, make progress and if they cooperate, progress will continue, said Torres.

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