CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- In a dilapidated shack on the outskirts of the base here, an Army artillery officer listens to an Iraqi law student discuss several of his clients’ cases. The Iraqi speaks broken English but is helped along the way by an interpreter masked with yellow sunglasses and a brown shawl. In the furthest corner of the room is an unobtrusive, quiet man who waits to be heard. All he wants is a job as a day laborer so he can take care of his family.
Such are the days for Army Capt. Rob C. Davis, a 33-year-old Newnan, Ga., native with the 48th Brigade Combat Team attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 130th Infantry Regiment.
While the unit is primarily tasked with providing base and area security here, it is accomplishing another mission to help Iraqis recover from the hardships that fighting terrorists has brought with it.
“Our business is a relationship business, we want to mingle with the people and build a trust, a bond with them,” said Davis. “They’re just glad to see someone that will help them or at least try to.”
Although it’s a daunting task to compile, translate and organize the information necessary to validate each claim, Davis and his soldiers help the nearby villagers as much as possible to get back on their feet.
Mohammed, the law student, represents such a village family and works with Davis to seek money for damages caused by combat operations against insurgents.
The middle-aged Iraqi opens three tattered folders with his clients’ grievances. Alex, the veiled interpreter, translates the documents for Davis, who mulls over the facts and looks for the hard proof necessary to make a condolence payment.
Many of the interpreters such as Alex hide their identities from other Iraqis for fear of reprisal from insurgents and terrorists seeking to punish anyone who assists Coalition Forces. Alex is most likely a fictitious name.
So far, the civil military operations program here has worked with U.S. Marine financial disbursers to distribute close to $50,000 in grievances and rewards for information leading to terrorist apprehension. The unit has helped the nearby villages with various humanitarian support projects such as re-supplying the local clinics, food distributions and has even given out soccer nets for playgrounds.
Aside from bolstering the quality of life, the program also looks for ways to boost the local economy. Saad, the elderly man pensively waiting to be heard, is one example.
Local villagers are employed for odd jobs around the base such as filling giant sand barriers. The money they are paid goes into their local commerce where it is needed.
Self-sufficiency is one of the goals here; let the people of Iraq take care of their own business independent of our help, said Davis.
Another type of assistance Davis provides is returning cars that were impounded by Coalition Forces.
“A car is extremely important to the folks over here, it’s a means of mobility and a means of earning income,” said Davis.
Eventually Davis and Mohammed resolve issues for the family he represents and the makeshift lawyer leaves contentedly.
Saad, finally getting his chance to speak, tells Davis an anguishing story of how he was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein’s regime for six months only to be released shortly before the Americans invaded Iraq. Now he is desperately trying to support a large family.
Davis makes a phone call to the sergeant responsible for hiring local villagers and puts in a word for Saad, but cannot promise anything.
As the day winds down, Davis packs up a rugged suitcase with the new requests for condolence payments and rides back in a humvee to his command post.
From there he will organize and file the paperwork to accommodate as many of the requests as he can. Next week he will go back to the operations center to pay out the ones that were approved and start the process all over again.
Some of the requests may be processed immediately, while others may take a year.
“The Iraqis are patient, I’ll give them that,” said Davis.