MOSUL, Iraq - Mosul has often been referred to as the last haven of insurgent activity in Iraq, but lately the city has had fewer doors bashed in and more tender loving care.

Col. Greg Maxton, the deputy commanding officer of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has been sitting "shotgun" with the residential, military and government leaders of Mosul since mid-February coordinating projects to clean the city's streets of trash. Although Maxton oversees all non-lethal operations in Ninewah province, there are other bricks in the pathway to success in the area.

Executed at the lowest possible level, companies, batteries and troops within 3rd HBCT have worked with local Iraqi leaders to establish the clean-up projects to turn what were once neighborhoods laden with the weight of their filth into communities thriving with physical and emotional potential.

After agreements are made and meetings are adjourned, the junior officers that command these lowest-level units watch the ideals go into action in the Mosul neighborhoods.

"The work that they're doing is spectacular," Maxton said. "We just have to keep our minds open; anything is possible." When contemplating projects Maxton poses the question - - "What does it take to promote a better environment for the people who live there'"

"Some of the companies may not realize the foundation of what they're doing, but really, everything hinges on it, and they're doing a great job," said Maxton.

7 Nissan is a neighborhood in northern Mosul that is supervised by Battery B., 2nd Bn., 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd HBCT.

A month ago, the neighborhood's empty lots and curbside gutters were riddled with an assortment of garbage from plastic grocery bags to broken-down cars. On March 7, Capt. Derrick Burden, the battery's commander, circulated the area and saw clean sidewalks, freshly swept streets and local residents spending their Saturday afternoon picking up trash and spreading gravel.

"My greatest achievement in this mission is watching [hired residents] come to work at seven in the morning every day," Burden said. "The people of 7 Nissan talk about how the government is doing a good job of hiring people within the neighborhood to work."

The work Burden and his battery have done is the solution to more than just aesthetic value and employment. In the past, unemployed men in Mosul were becoming puppets for the insurgent force as a means to provide for their families. As these same men have been provided a legitimate source of income, the illicit organizations for which they used to work will no longer be a source of strength. The efforts of 3rd HBCT will ultimately drive insurgents away.

If Iraq were a dense forest, these projects are rays of light reaching to infant saplings struggling to grow amidst the undergrowth. Holding a job and providing for their families gives the men of 7 Nissan special pride in themselves and a start at a return to normalcy. The city has been oppressed by the war and its effects for upwards of six years, and for some, that has meant six years since the shop that was their main source of income was destroyed in a suicide bomber incident.

What used to be a job designated for the lowest rung on the social ladder is now widely accepted, as most of Mosul has been reduced to abject poverty since the start of the war.

"Having a job and a legitimate way to earn an income is very important," Maxton was told by one worker. "Honestly, I'm doing it in my own neighborhood. These are my brothers that are next to me picking up trash."

"I think that's the great part about keeping it within the neighborhoods," Maxton said. "They are taking ownership and pride in the work they are accomplishing."