By Spc. Phillip Adam Turner, MND-B PAOMarch 26, 2009
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Women draped in traditional Iraqi 'abaiah dress peered from behind the make-shift, gated entries to their homes, as barefooted children pushed by to offer a smile and high spirited wave to the Soldiers arriving with much needed medical supplies for the populous of the small al-Shaab community in northeastern Baghdad March 19.
This joint humanitarian aid mission, held by Soldiers of the 11th Iraqi Army Division and their U.S. Military Transition Team partners, was the first glimpse of government assistance for some residents of this poverty stricken neighborhood in the Adhamiyah district.
According to one high ranking Iraqi official, the district is one of Baghdad's "poorest, with a very high unemployment rate." With the absence of running water, maybe three to fours hours of electricity daily, and very few inhabitants having the means to travel into the city for work, many here have found themselves feeling helpless, hopeless, and forgotten.
"I think the [11th IA Div.] saw the great need for some intervention here," said Maj. Samuel Rodriquez, 11th MiTT, from Edinburgh, Texas. "We are just here to support them in their mission. It should be them who are praised for seeing this great need and coming out here and providing assistance to these Iraqi people who need it most."
This impoverished community finds itself entangled through what American forces call a 'sectarian route of supply'; as many areas closely surrounding the outskirts of this district have provided numerous weapons cache finds, and are known to be a safe-house of sorts for enemy personnel. So for U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers, their first visit to this district of Baghdad afforded an excellent opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the local populous.
"It's a rough neighborhood, which is why this mission is so important. If you are going to change people's minds and get them to see the good in the Iraq Army, the National Police; you have to engage the people in this area. Give them confidence in the [Iraqi Security Forces] and Coalition forces; show that we do have an interest in their situation as well as quality of life," said Rodriguez.
U.S. medical Soldiers, alongside their Iraqi counterparts, set up an impromptu aid station inside a class room to conduct examinations and prescribe antibiotics for a wide range of medical ailments. Government volunteers and Soldiers of the 11th IA Div. oversaw the distribution of care. Toothbrushes, aspirin, sun screen, eye drops, and many other everyday items one would take for granted were handed out to any and all comers, along with bags of non-perishable food items.
"With the children we see a lot of infections; ear infections, and sinus problems. With the elderly we see a lot of severe diabetics, high blood pressure, things that we are not equipped to treat in this capacity, disease that requires long term prescription care," said Stockbridge, Ga. native, Staff Sgt. Travis Jones, the medical non-commissioned officer in charge for the 42nd 'Shadow' Brigade, Military Transition Team.
Iraq Army officials, who handpicked the site, predicted 200 to 250 people turning out to receive help. However, once on the ground it was apparent that the demand would very quickly consume the supply.
"There is never enough. We could take all the supplies we posses out there with us and we would never be able to make a dent," said Sgt. 1st Class David Markus, 11th IA MiTT senior medical advisor, from Fort Lewis, Wash. "To me though, even the smallest things that we do are good; it feels good just to be out there doing what you can."
Broad spectrum antibiotics such as Amoxicillin and Penicillin are in abundance. However, there is no capability for long-term, specialized care, so the focus on these missions becomes more short term illnesses, such as viruses. Even with a low level of supplies and an abundant outcry of needs, the 11th Iraqi Army Division, and their U.S. MiTT counterparts felt they accomplished their mission and gained the trust and appreciation of a very important region in the fight against sectarian violence throughout Baghdad, Markus explained.
"We want to come out here and have a positive effect; to let the people see that the Government and Military of Iraq cares for its people," said one of the Iraqi officials at the site. "We are working towards a solution on our weak infrastructure. However, we can not do all of these things hastily, we have to do it through the correct means or it will not work to the people's advantage."
For every handicapped child who left with a new wheel chair, to every family who took home fresh non perishable food items, the overwhelming sense of community appreciation overshadowed the satisfaction of mission accomplishment for the Soldiers and medical personnel.
"They all seem very appreciative of our efforts; you can see it by the way they react to you," said Rodriguez. "It gives you that 'warm and fuzzy' inside, when you realize you have made a positive impact on these peoples lives."