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    Assisting locals, increasing trust: Humanitarian aid drops help build confidence in ISF, ease US drawdown

    Assisting locals, increasing trust

    Courtesy Photo | Spc. John Laursen, a native of Bricktown, N.J., and a driver from Co. E., 2nd...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    United States Division-Center

    By Pfc. Emily Knitter

    BAGHDAD – Colorful bags emblazoned with cartoon characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Barbie sat in a small, beat-up metal trailer, reflecting the early morning sun; a colorful contrast to the glistening sweat dripping from under the dusty helmets of soldiers working nearby.

    The soldiers seemed to be everywhere at once, organizing supplies, arranging lines of concertina wire, and doing everything necessary to prepare for the people who would soon be descending on their temporary camp.

    Even as the morning continued to heat up and the sweat continued to pour down, the soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, remained in high spirits, laughing and joking with each other and their Iraqi Army counterparts from 1st Battalion, 25th Brigade, 17th Iraqi Army Division.

    "Working hand-and-hand with the Iraqi Army is a great experience," said Spc. John Laursen, a native of Bricktown, N.J., and a driver from Co. E., 2nd Bn. 14th Inf. Reg. "It's a great way to show the citizens of these rural towns that the U.S. and Iraqi armies are still here to support them, protect them, and that the Iraqi Army is there to help when they need it."

    Soon, the camp was ready to go, and the local citizens began to line up. This is a scene very familiar to the soldiers.

    During May and June, 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt., assisted 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, by conducting humanitarian assistance drops and cooperative medical engagements with Iraqi Army soldiers from both the 1st and 2nd Battalions with 25th Brigade, 17th Iraqi Army Division, throughout the Baghdad area to provide necessary supplies and medical attention to the local communities. A lieutenant from the company said approximately 2,000 families benefitted from these missions.

    While this scene may now be standard to the soldiers, for the local people of Lutifiyah, Iraq, there was nothing standard about it.

    As the soldiers handling the supplies radioed to the Soldiers keeping the crowd organized that they were ready to begin, the excitement from the local citizens heightened as they crammed together, trying to get the aid as soon as they could.

    Even as everyone gathered together, there were no harsh words, no angry faces or shoves. Every person continued to grin from ear to ear, peering anxiously over each other's shoulders at the trucks which overflowed with boxes and bags full of food, water and medical supplies.

    "My favorite part of the humanitarian aid missions was to see the smiles on kids' faces when we handed out medical supplies and food," said Sgt. Jorge Escobar, a native of Turlock, Calif., and an infantryman with Co. A., 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. "It made me think of how easy we have it in the United States, and how a little help strengthens our partnership with the Iraqi people."

    Lutifiyah is an extremely rural area, with most of the people living without running water or electricity, and in most cases, without the money or means to sufficiently support their family.
    As the people began to filter through the concertina wire, children ran at full speed toward the awaiting Soldiers, while the adults walked slowly behind, their smiles betraying their calm exterior, hinting at their contained excitement. As the children ran by hauling bags almost as big as themselves, behind, laughter and conversation filled the air as the Iraqi Army and U.S. soldiers spoke with the local people.

    Sometimes on these drops, the soldiers get the opportunity to help the people on an individual basis.
    "A young child was carried up to us in his father’s arms, who asked our medic for help because the child couldn't walk," described Laursen. "We were able to supply him with a wheelchair, which is really going to change that kid's life. Before, he was stuck in a bed or a chair—stationary—with no means of transportation. Now, for the first time in his life, he will have the option to go get a glass of water on his own."

    The partnership between the Iraqi and U.S. Armies has been key to showing local citizens that the Iraqi Army is willing and able to take care of their needs. As the U.S. forces work toward a responsible drawdown, yielding more control to the Iraqi Army, goodwill missions like humanitarian aid drops are natural step toward building confidence among the people.

    Leaders see these efforts as immeasurable to the continued success of the new government and the growing confidence in the security force.

    "These drops wouldn't be anywhere near as successful without the Iraqi Army," said Laursen. "Bringing the local Iraqi Army in the area is a huge help. They know the area better than us and are really helpful in getting the word out to the community. Being side-by-side with them while we are handing out everything from food to medical supplies is showing the public the joint effort we are putting in because of our concern for the well-being of the community."

    As the boxes of medical supplies and bags of food started to empty, impromptu soccer games cropped up in the nearby field as children began to play with their new toys. Adults lingered around— talking to each other and Iraqi and U.S. Soldiers as the empty boxes were piled into the backs of trailers and the concertina wire rolled up.

    Although this was the last humanitarian assistance drop for 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt., the benefits of their work are expected to be felt long after the unit returns to Ft. Drum, N.Y.

    "I will always remember watching the kids follow our trucks and wave goodbye after we finished the drop and began to head back," said Escobar. "It made me feel good to know we are winning their hearts and minds."



    Date Taken: 07.10.2010
    Date Posted: 07.10.2010 03:20
    Story ID: 52634
    Location: BAGHDAD, IQ 

    Web Views: 867
    Downloads: 211