By Staff 1/82 AAB, USD-CApril 7, 2010
COMBAT OUTPOST UBAYDI, Iraq - The mail clerk at Combat Outpost Ubaydi, the furthest west COP in all of Iraq, recently noticed a steady stream of boxes being shipped to a single paratrooper, reminiscent of Christmas holidays.
They were all addressed to Spc. Erik Casarez of 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist).
The San Diego, Calif., native noticed that his fellow comrades at the isolated COP were in need of reassurances of support and the recollections of home, he said.
Through friends connected to the organization Comfort, Hope, and Promise of San Diego, who occasionally support a battalion of Marines, Casarez arranged for the organization to shift their support to his platoon.
Casarez's initial intent for the packages was to mitigate the high operational tempo his platoon had maintained during the past six months, he said. However, that was before he and his fellow paratroopers fully understood how poor many of their new neighbors were.
The platoon works along the Iraqi-Syrian border to deny the flow of weapons, violent extremists, foreign fighters, and other illegal border crossing activity.
Advising and assisting the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement has led to a 90-percent decrease in border crossings from November 2009 to March 2010 and helped to enable a safe and successful Iraqi governmental election on March 7, a pivotal event for Iraqis future, according to Casarez' platoon leader, 1st Lt. Joseph Driskell.
During the six months of border interdiction operations, 3rd Platoon has traversed a broad swath of barren desert plains, cliffs and dry riverbed "wadis," seeing only farmers and nomadic shepherds, said Driskell.
The platoon would often visit farmers to ensure they understood the purpose of 3rd Platoon's presence on the border in the vicinity of their farms. During these visits, members of the platoon noticed that many of the Iraqi families were without bare necessities and in need of support.
"There a large number of displaced Iraqis, farmers, and nomads living in the deserts of Al Qaim," Driskell explained. "Many of these farmers have 10 to 20 children, and the reality of their situation is that this region is without an abundance of rain and they don't receive government subsistence."
The lieutenant said it was his platoon's mission not only to make a positive difference with their Iraqi security-force partners, but also with the local nationals within their operating environment.
"Sometimes that can be as simple as a short visit to discuss their issues and provide them with a small bit of water and food."
Explained Casarez, "We decided to take the packages meant for us and distribute them among the fathers, mothers and children. Our goal is to provide blankets, food and toys to the people in most need while we still operate in this area."
The last shipment received from Comfort, Hope, and Promise included beanies, blankets, scarves, undergarments, coffee and various snacks; ideal materials to assist the less fortunate Iraqis in their operating environment, said Casarez.
"I hope the actions of 3rd Platoon will have a ripple effect across our battalion and the entire Anbar province to show the locals that the American Soldiers are not just 'fighting robots,' but that we are also people with families, wives and children of our own, and we truly care about the wellbeing of others like we do our own," said Casarez.
The young Soldier's platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Fitch, said, "It is not often that junior Soldiers are able to observe the positive impacts that they actually make. I am proud of my Soldier's decision to help the local nationals and pleased he can witness the positive impacts he made."