By Master Sgt. Carl MarJanuary 5, 2009
COB ADDER, Iraq - Four years is a long time for friends to not see each other. Attitudes can change which was a concern for the Civil Military Operations team, 287th Sustainment Brigade as they visited the village of Al Habib in Muthanna province, Dec. 23.
The trip's primary purpose was to assess the community's water pump for possible replacement, but the result was the renewing of old ties.
Two weeks prior to the visit, Lt. Col. Clint Moyer, 287th Civil Affairs chief, attended a key leaders meeting between area shaykhs and his unit's command staff when he met shaykh Al Habeb of the Al Ghinizsi tribe. In their dialogue, Moyer learned that in 2004 Coalition forces built a road through the shaykh's village and remodeled the village school. Since the completion of the project, however, no Coalition forces have visited the village.
"Shaykh Al Habeb also said that the village water pump was in dire need of replacement and asked for our assistance," said Moyer.
The 287th Sust. Bde. recently assumed responsibility for sustainment operations in southern Iraq. The Civil Affairs team had yet to go out independently on a mission. Al Habib presented the team several arguments why it would be a good first mission.
"It's a place where no Coalition forces have been for a while, and conducting a site survey of their pump offers us a chance to re-establish relations with the people.
The Al Saafy elementary school there is a bonus. It gives us an opportunity to start our 'Read Iraq' program." said Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Parker, 287th Sust. Bde., Civil Affairs Operations.
The program, explained Parker, utilizes Soldier volunteers to read familiar children stories to Iraqi schoolchildren learning English as a second language. The children learn from English speakers how to enunciate words correctly and gain insight into Western culture.
After two weeks of preparation, the civil affairs team arrived at the village. Upon arrival, the team found the pump and assessed its condition. Little of the original green paint remained; most parts are rusted dark brown, and leakage was evident around its base. Having completed the assessment, Shaykh Al Habeb and village elders greeted the team members and invited them inside a nearby community building for hot tea.
About a dozen men with young children at their side listened intently as Shaykh Al Habeb engaged Moyer in brief discussion. He retold the story of how Coalition forces helped the village in the past, and then spoke about the needs of the village now.
"We had a good relationship with the Soldiers in the past, and we would like to build that same relationship with you. I understand that this goal requires work and does not happen immediately. But I hope we will achieve this goal," said Habeb.
After the meeting, the shaykh provided Moyer and his team a walking tour of the village while pointing out its major features, including the their primary source of water and the remodeled Al Saafy school house -- a yellow brick building with four classrooms accommodating 103 students and 12 teachers.
Shaykh Al Habeb and Moyer visited the school principal, Kundaier Chasseb Hashim and asked his permission for visitors to enter into the classrooms. After they received permission, they entered to read books in English and presented small gifts to the teachers and students. For the next hour, American Soldiers held the attention of every child in the school.
As the Soldiers gave lessons and children laughed loudly, Shaykh Al Habeb conversed with some of the unoccupied Soldiers. "Have you visited here before, do you like our country' Maybe someday, when you are not a Soldier, you will come back'" he asked with a smile. The delight on his face indicated he was happy to see again the presence of Coalition Soldiers in his village.