News: 4-2 Legal office settles old debts
Story by Sgt. Bryce Dubee
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — As U.S. forces proceed on course with the responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq, Soldiers in the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division legal office are working hard to set things right and tie up loose ends among Iraqi citizens who are owed compensation from the U.S. government.
The Army has programs in place designed to address any claims filed by Iraqi citizens, including property damage, injury or loss of life, and even paying landowners lease payments for land used by the U.S. military.
For example, if a 20-ton Stryker accidentally backs into an Iraqi citizen's car, the drivers can't exactly exchange information and let the insurance companies take care of it.
Instead, the citizen can file a claim with the military, which is then processed and paid out by military legal professionals.
On March 10, members of the 4th SBCT legal team travelled to Abu Ghraib near Camp Liberty to pay claims they had received and pick up new claims that had been filed.
That day, the legal Soldiers were especially excited because, in addition to regular claims payments, they had a chance to do something that hadn't been done in a while.
"We've gone out on numerous claims missions," said Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Neal, the brigade legal office non-commissioned officer in charge. "What makes this one special is that this is the first time we've actually gotten to pay a lease claim for land that we've occupied and have a lease for, for the time period that we've occupied it."
When U.S. forces launched the 2007 "Surge" offensive, aimed at rooting out insurgents across Iraq, the increase in forces and expanded U.S. presence meant the Soldiers had to set up combat outposts and joint security stations in new areas, oftentimes taking over homes and property owned by Iraqis with the agreement that they would reimburse the property owner at a later date.
"We have the ability to help others," said Capt. Alex Arca, the brigade claims, contract and fiscal law attorney, who explained that the average damage claim takes about two to four weeks to process, while claims for land leases can take more than a year.
This was the first time in several years that the Army has paid out land lease claims to Iraqi landowners, with the 4th SCBT legal team paying out roughly $225,000 out to claimants. And while some of the lease claimants expressed frustration in the length of the process, most appeared happy to finally be receiving payment and left with a smile on their face.
"It's a great accomplishment for us personally to actually be able to pay these people out," said Sgt. Corbin Reiff, the claims NCOIC. "Us — the legal office of 4-2, was able to get something done that no one had been able to get done before, which is something that makes you feel real proud."
The legal office set a goal of trying to process about 25 claims a month, not an easy task when they are responsible for nearly all of western Baghdad to Fallujah, and north past the city of Taji.
"We are the largest intake point and the largest purveyor of money when it comes to claims," said Reiff proudly. "No one's bigger than 4-2 SBCT."
Securing funding to pay for the leases was the most time consuming part of the entire process, said Scott Mason, the acting chief of real estate for the U.S. Forces-Iraq J-7, who also travelled out to Abu Ghraib to assist in processing the lease claims.
Mason praised the 4th SBCT legal office and said he was truly impressed by their hard work and dedication to processing the lease claims.
"Everyone said it would take six to eight months, but Sgt. 1st Class Neal and his guys did it in a little over a month," he said. "Whoever follows behind me need to see this is how it should be done."
Neal took the praise in stride, saying that even though his shop may have the largest claims mission in Iraq; it is all part of the job.
"It is quite the workload," he said with a smile. "But that's what we're here for."