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CSSG-11 Makes Iraqi City Strong Again

1 Sep 2003 | Sgt. Matthew Miller

Combat Service Support Group-11 embarked on civil affairs and humanitarian support as Operation Iraqi Freedom shifted from major combat to stabilization operations for I Marine Expeditionary Force after May.

The Group spent March through May in Iraq maneuvering with 1st Marine Division, providing support for the major combat operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Then it shifted some of its focus to help the local community in and around Supply Area Edson located in Ad Diwaniya, a southern Iraqi city.

All elements of I MEF's support group were involved with improving the quality of life of the poor struggling community, which had endured extra hardships since Operation Iraqi Freedom started. But, at the same time, were still able to provide the MEF with the support it needed.

Engineers built roads, security structures and repaired structures damaged during combat and looting; medical units worked with the hospitals to improve medical service in the area; and civil affairs Marines helped provide jobs for out of work Iraqis, improve the reliability of electricity and worked with the local government.

"CSSG-11 was the largest private employer in Ad Diwaniya through June employing over 400 Iraqis repairing the university and hiring local mechanics," according to Col. John Pomfret, commanding officer, CSSG-11. "We also brought medical supplies from Baghdad weekly and provided food to an old folks home. For the future, we initiated the building of a women's center and an orphanage."

When CSSG-11 arrived at Ad Diwaniya, the set up their supply base at the local university, Al-Qadisyia University, which had been damaged by looters when the war started. The Marines immediately started repairing the school so classes could restart as soon as possible. They cleaned debris, repaired buildings and created warranties with local contractors to ensure repairs continue after they leave.

"When we got here, there was trash up to our knees," said 1st Lt. Jacquelyn Carter, a 24-year-old, Engineer Support Officer from Rifle, Colo. "Everything was destroyed. People had literally stolen porcelain fixtures, like sinks and toilets. The Marines came up and cleaned up all the trash. There was no electricity or light fixtures when we got here. We ended up restoring power to all of the 30 buildings except two."

The engineer company also employed their skills and assets in the town. A nearby village received a new gravel road to connect them to the highway into Ad Diwaniya. The old roads out of the town were poorly built dirt paths, impassible during the rainy winter months.

"It's a poor village," according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jim Ficklen, Operations Plt. Cmdr., Engineer Co., CSSG-11. "They didn't have any assets or money to do something like this for themselves."

Following the road construction, the company switched gears and began assisting the security effort by building a 10-foot-tall fence around the front of the local bank. The fence replaced 200 feet of tangled concertina wire and sandbags which were not providing the intended protection from thieves and looters.

"My guys really stretched to the limits of their MOS," said Ficklen, a 32-year-old native of Atlanta, Ga. "This doesn't really fall into our job description. We don't do vertical metal construction. We just don't train for it. We lay blocks and build buildings out of wood. Our welders got some good training and hands on experience with something they would never normally do."

The medical battalion and Marines with the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System also did their part to help the town. The medical community in Ad Diwaniya was assessed as being in pretty good condition when CSSG-11 arrived, according to Lt. Col. Richard Hirsch, Detachment Commander, 3rd Civil Affairs Group. But the situation was completely different within two months.

When their stored supplies started thinning out, "the doctors came to me and said that they would not be able to perform surgeries and give the people the needed care if they didn't get resupplied."

It took a few weeks and forceful conversations to convince the medical warehouse supervisors in Baghdad of the emergency situation in Ad Diwaniya, but eventually the doctors were able to bring back 21 trucks worth of supplies in eight days, and another 14 trucks in the following two-and-a-half weeks.

"The people here are real smart," said Hirsch, a 43-year-old reservist from Phoenix. "The doctors are well-trained. That isn't the problem. The problem is that the resources aren't there. Some of the southern parts of Iraq are discriminated against from Baghdad, and that prevented them from receiving some of the necessary supplies."

The doctors distributed the supplies once they were at the city's main hospital.

"I tried to make the hospitals and clinics dependant on themselves," Hirsch said. "Now that we're leaving, I am confident that they will be able to continue by themselves."

Almost everyone in Ad Diwaniya is grateful and appreciative for everything the Marines have done since they first crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border.

"Most of them (citizens) are so happy and grateful about the American forces," said Rafid Kadhim Abbas, an interpreter for CSSG-11 and resident of Ad Diwaniya. "The word they use to describe how they feel is hard to translate. It kind of means 'We don't want you to go. We love you. You are our very good friends.' with very strong feeling. We do not see the American forces as occupying forces, rather we see them as only liberators who freed us from Saddam, and we are thankful for everything they do to make our cities strong again."

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