News: Iraqi and U.S. service members unite to restore historic site
Story by Cpl. Jo Jones
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — More than 50 service members from units aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, teamed up with soldiers from the 7th Iraqi Army Division to clean up the Al Asad oasis and palm grove.
Legend has it that Abraham, a prominent figure in the Old Testament, visited the oasis on his pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Ur and therefore the site has a special religious and cultural significance to the Iraqi people. The oasis sits outside Camp Mejid, the headquarters for the 7th IA Division and home to Military Transition Team 7, the unit responsible for training and mentoring the Iraqi unit.
"This project is part of an effort to build a bond between U.S. forces and Iraqi army forces by working together with them and showing them the importance of environmental preservation," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Gustavo Garcia, the senior enlisted advisor for MiTT-7. "Historical places of interest in their country are also important to us, and those places should be maintained and cared for in order to keep that history preserved for others to know about and enjoy."
With trash bags in hand, service members from MiTT-7, the Al Asad Base Command Group, and other Multi-National Force - West units worked with Iraqi soldiers to pick up fallen palm tree branches, dead brush and garbage that had collected on the site. Working in four groups, the men and women started at each corner of the oasis and worked their way toward the center to ensure the entire area was given a once-over.
"I felt like I was on vacation instead of working," said Pvt. Abbas Jbary, a soldier with Headquarters Company, 7th IA Division. "The Americans are friendly, and we did our best to talk to each other."
After the day-long project, the Americans and Iraqis ate a meal of rice, chicken and fruit, which Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Plummer, the Base Command Group chaplain, said was another way to foster positive cross-cultural relationships.
"We wanted to show our appreciation for their hospitality," said Plummer. "To gather around a table is to come together in friendship."
Garcia said the oasis cleaning project provided a unique opportunity for people of two different cultures to work together toward a common goal, and came on the heels of another restoration project that included the refurbishment of dilapidated buildings and the construction of a dock and gazebo.
Jbary added that he enjoyed working with the U.S. service members and looks forward to more opportunities to interact with them. In recent weeks, religious ministry teams from MNF-W sponsored a series of tours of the oasis to provide deployed Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilians with a better understanding of the Iraqi people and the country's history and heritage.
"We appreciate the American forces," said Jbary. "Today was fun, and we had a lot of good experiences."