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Reserve grunts adopt Iraqi villages, schools

30 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright

A change of pace from their duties of providing camp security here, members of a Marine reserve infantry battalion let their guard down and lent a hand to residents of a nearby Iraqi fishing village April 22, 2004.

Marines of Third Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to the 1st Force Service Support Group, delivered shoes and school supplies to children and also gave rudimentary medical check-ups to the villagers.

The St. Louis-based unit has made several such visits to the small village, and others like it, where they work with locals in an effort to improve their communities and their lives.

During previous visits the reservists have coordinated construction efforts, delivered food and water, and even worked to renovate the fishing village's school, said Capt. James Suh, the battalion's logistics officer, who is in charge of planning the visits to the villages.

There is still some work left to be done on the school, but battalion commanding officer, Lt. Col. Milton L. Wick, said that he expects the battalion to complete renovations by the fall.

"We need to get the school schedule up and running ... to have classes in session, and those kids getting an education," said Wick, a 42-year-old native of Winfield, Kan.

Another ongoing effort for the battalion is providing medical care to the villagers.

During a recent visit to the fishing village, the battalion's doctors and corpsmen quickly set up a makeshift aid station on the tailgate of a humvee, and began checking ears and throats, listening to heartbeats and treating cuts and scrapes.

"Since they're all at a poverty level, they look a lot sicker than what they are," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Stanley M. Duing, a 40-year-old native of Cadet, Mo., who explained that, other than minor problems, the locals seem to be fit.

While the docs saw to the health of the villagers, the grunts were busy spreading happiness amongst the children by handing out donated shoes, school supplies and even candy.

Most of the donated items are collected and sent by friends and family of the Marines and sailors in the battalion, which is spread across four different states.

Though regular shipments of goods have continued to arrive from home, some say their loved ones' wallets are getting stretched thin. The reservists have been calling and e-mailing people and businesses stateside, in an effort to drum up more donations.

The battalion is also seeking money from the United Nations-funded Commander's Emergency Response Program to help finance their efforts.

However, getting authorization to use the funds is a long process and requires special training, said the 1st FSSG comptroller, Maj. Kenneth L. Crabtree, a 34-year-old native of Nazareth, Pa., who oversees use of the funds.

The battalion is trying to get as much funding and as many donations as possible so they can provide supplies for several schools that they have visited in the surrounding area, said Suh, a 31-year-old native of Orlando, Fla.

"They are all very short on the basics: pens, pencils, markers, crayons, erasers, sharpeners, paper," Suh said.

Some of the battalion's Marines and sailors said that despite the effort involved in collecting the donations and making the visits, they enjoy interacting with the children, and the feelings appear mutual.

"It's a blast. The kids definitely love us," said Lance Cpl. Frank J. Addison, a 22-year-old native of Salem, Ill.

"I wish we could do a lot more," said Gunnery Sgt. Chad E. Gillihan, the battalion's career planner and a 35-year-old native of Placerville, Calif., who said that his hope for the villages is that some of the children "would get a chance to have the things that we as Americans take for granted."

Wick said that he has high hopes for the future of these visits, which are a change from the tense dealings Marines have had in cities like Fallujah and Ar Ramadi.

He said that some of the smaller villages have been concerned about seeking help from the Americans, fearing reprisals from anti-coalition insurgents. He has promised to keep visits to those villages discreet and said that village leaders are willing to work with his battalion.

"Once we get the bad guys out of the way, our original plan and our original intentions for operations here - they'll start to kick back in," he said.

(Editor's note: Third Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's companies are geographically separated from the battalion headquarters. They are based in Springfield, Mo., Broken Arrow, Okla., Nashville and Johnson City, Tenn. and Terre Haute, Ind.)
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