ZAKHO, Iraq " Soldiers stationed at Habur Gate have capitalized on unique opportunities to help the local economy, provide for a local village, and reap the rewards of a cultural exchange.
The Kurdish controlled northern area of Iraq is peaceful enough that Soldiers stationed here can shop in the local stores, visit historical sites, eat at local restaurants and even set up ad hoc charities for local villages.
In May, a group of Soldiers and civilians headed by Capt. Anthony Hall, commander of the 258th Movement Control Team, headed out to a local village of about 30 people to bring water, sodas and toys. However, the main purpose of the visit was for Hall to be able to find out their long-term needs. When Hall took over at Habur Gate a few months ago, his replacement told him of the village and the relationship between the U.S. Army and the people there.
"We went out to the village," Hall said. "It became real to me and I thought, 'this is a mission I want to definitely support.""
But even before the trip to the village, the Soldiers had made a valuable contribution to the local economy by buying all the items for the village at a market in Zakho. Soldiers organize shopping trips to the Zakho market about once a week. Soldiers can experience the Kurdish culture and at the same time help enrich the local merchants.
"Being up here, so far away from the command, it's hard to get things on a regular basis," said Sgt. Bradley Schmidt, a network systems operator from the 101st Sustainment Brigade.
With no post exchange for the Soldiers, it's convenient for them to purchase items like soap, music, movies and snacks on the local economy.
While out shopping, the Soldiers also have a chance to visit an ancient bridge and mingle with tourists who seem to love to take pictures with the U.S. Soldiers.
At one point, while walking on the streets of Zakho, a man rolled down his window and yelled, "Thank you."
Goodwill like this has further convinced Soldiers to try to help the locals. That's why Spc. Katrina Oster, a cook with the 872nd Maintenance Company, took time out to visit the village and distribute the goods.
"I love this," She said. "I love being able to come out and see the kids " see the happiness that it brings them."
Soldiers aren't the only ones who are helping in the village. The Kurdish government in the area recently started a housing project to repair and build new houses in the area.
"The housing is really so much better now," Oster said comparing it to her previous visits.
The village leaders were happy to welcome the Soldiers and brought them water and tea while they talked business under a tree and the children played around them. Villagers said their number one need was getting electricity in their homes. Hall said he would do whatever he could to help them. The village leader told Hall to think of the village like an American village.
"It made me feel like I'm a part of their village," Hall said. "It makes me very proud to wear this uniform and very proud to be here."