Tending to the Affairs of Civilians

23 Aug 2003 | Sgt. Matthew Miller 1st Marine Logistics Group

Marines of 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Combat Service Support Group-11 have been helping the citizens of Ad Diwaniya, Iraq by providing jobs, providing security and distributing donated items to the poorer parts of the community since they got here.

Combat Service Support Group-11 occupied the Al Qadisiya University campus the last week of March and transformed it into Supply Area Edson to support I Marine Expeditionary Force on their way to Baghdad. CSSG-11 looked to their civil affairs team to tend to the needs of the community while the rest of the group was tending to the needs of Marines fighting a war.

"Civil Affairs is the connection between the people and the military," according to Cpl. Omar Amer, interpreter, 3rd Civil Affairs Group. "It's the way the military communicates with the people."

The civil affairs team is involved with almost every situation where the military deals with the local community -- good or bad.

"We did everything," said Amer, a 32-year-old Houston resident born in Kuwait. "We got to deal with unexpected situations in town because we are always out there with the people.   Things like apprehending looters, gathering intel, participating in murder investigations, which are not civil affairs missions, all because the public sees us. If we didn't, the people would see us as just living in Diwaniya and not really caring."

They have a unique relationship, which gives the Marines an enormous amount of job satisfaction.

"We got to know the people and their culture little bit more than the average Marine would," said Lance Cpl. Salvador Gonzalez, a 20-year-old civil affairs Marine from Santa Ana, California. "We actually became friends with a lot of Iraqis.

"It allows me to see two sides of every situation. I get to see the military's point of view, but also what the local civilians are thinking. It made me realize that we have to win the hearts and minds of the people."

Winning the hearts and minds of the people happens in many ways; from helping the hospitals get the medicines they need and finding ways for the local utilities to get up and running to doing something good for individuals.

"One thing we got to do was hire one Iraqi worker who had a severely deformed foot, almost at a right angle. He's never had a job before," according to Capt. Patrick J. Nash, Team Leader, civil affairs team, CSSG-11. "He crutches around and does his job enthusiastically. I've never seen anyone's face light up before like that when offered a job. His family and the people of the community came up and gave us hugs for giving him a chance."

One of the civil affairs teams directly helped with the rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch.

"Captain Coast (a civil affairs team leader) was at a checkpoint and pulled someone over," Amer said. "The guy happened to mention something about her(Lynch) and he (Coast) started asking more and getting a lot of information. The information he got helped find Jessica Lynch."

Civil Affairs, although helping the local community directly and indirectly, can't always give the people what they want.

"We deal with a lot of negative (things). People think since we're part of the military, we can do anything," Amer said. "They think we can solve all their problems, but 99% of the complaints we can't do anything about. They'll come up to us and tell us to fix the electricity or fix some other problem that we don't have control over.

"We're the one's they see all the time, so we're the complaint department."

"No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, there are some things we just can't fix, like electricity," said Nash, a 30-year-old native of Manhasset, N.Y. "We've called Baghdad and gotten them some, but its not always enough. Sometimes they get eight hours (per day), sometimes 12. Sometimes they don't understand that we can't fix everything."

But the job they do still has a big impact on the community. The Marines, sailors and soldiers in Ad Diwaniya would be just a military force to them without the civil affairs team. The Marines of 3rd CAG help make CSSG-11 part of the community and show the local residents that the Marines want to help and make life better for them.

"(As a civil affairs Marine) You have an awesome responsibility," said Amer. "You are making what the President of the United States wants to happen -- happen."

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