Soldier Volunteers Show Softer Side of War
February 7, 2007
BAGHDAD (Army News Service, Feb. 7, 2007) - In a place where chaos and destruction are part of everyday life, smiles can make a world of a difference. Add humanitarian assistance to the equation, combined with a desire to help others, hearts can be won. That's what Soldiers, Airmen and civilians are doing, and they're progressively winning the hearts of Iraqis in Baghdad at the Civil Military Operation Center here.
CMOC opens daily to Iraqis in need. Most of the locals come for medical treatment, dental assistance or legal help. After aid is rendered, each visitor receives a bag containing food, clothes, toys, hygiene products and school supplies, said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Perez, CMOC noncommissioned officer in charge, 413th Civil Affairs Battalion.
"The CMOC is a link between the Iraqi and U.S. governments," Perez said. "When the locals have a problem we can't solve, we send them to the ministry of defense, ministry of agriculture or whoever is best suited to help."
Perez estimates 1,000 Iraqis visit monthly and said the security measures play a large part in the clinic's success.
"They know we're not here to hurt them," Perez said. "We have guard towers all around, so they're protected and unafraid to walk around or play outside on the playground."
Playing with children on the playground is one of Air Force 1st Lt. Christine Anouchian's favorite activities. Anouchian, a foreign disclosure officer with the 5th Air Force Intelligence Directorate, has been receiving boxes of humanitarian assistance from her home station at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan.
"I like giving to the children who will be shaping Iraq's future and letting them know we're not here to do bad things," Anouchian said. "A lot of media campaigns are geared against Americans, so this is one way of showing them we're here to help."
Several Soldiers help at the clinic daily. In addition to Army doctors and legal assistants, the CMOC staff welcomes all who want to help. Many service members receive boxes from home and bring them to the clinic because they know their goods will go toward a needy cause, Perez said.
Anouchian tries to help at the clinic at least once a month. She always invites fellow servicemembers, emphasizing the importance of reaching out to kids. For her, volunteering at the CMOC is both rewarding and difficult.
"It is a bittersweet feeling. You're happy to help, but bummed they're in such a desperate state," Anouchian said.
While kids are being helped, their parents are usually seeking treatment or advice. Perez described a man who showed up one day who could barely walk. Air Force doctors at the clinic performed an eight hour surgery on him. Afterwards, the tearful patient thanked the doctors with hugs.
"After we assist a person who couldn't find help for months, they finally know we are really here to help them," Perez said. "I feel proud of what we're doing here."
(Spc. Laura M. Bigenho serves with the 28th Public Affairs Detachment.)