CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marines with 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment visited a local village May 15, 2004, in an effort to develop a positive relationship with the neighboring community and attempt to help its citizens obtain the tools they need to escape poverty.
Reserve infantrymen and Navy medical personnel from the battalion, as well as other 1st Force Service Support Group units, assessed the people's medical needs, delivered 2,000 gallons of fresh water and spoke with the community's leaders about their concerns.
The medical crew gave checkups to as many villagers as they could. For some locals, this was their first visit with a doctor in more than two years.
Problems encountered during the exams ranged from high blood pressure to poor vision. The doctors and corpsmen focused on assessing the villagers' medical needs, rather than treating them.
The purpose of conducting these types of checkups was not to administer humanitarian assistance to the Iraqis, said Lt. j.g. Noelle Griffith, a 31-year-old nurse with the Surgical/Shock Trauma Platoon here and a resident of San Diego. Rather, it gave the doctors an idea of what medical supplies the village needed, so they could try to pass the information on to organizations with the resources to help.
Meanwhile, outside, other Marines and corpsmen passed out candy and soccer balls and played with the children.
Among other things, the village's leadership expressed interest in building a school closer to them, since the nearest one is two kilometers away. According to Lt. Col. Milton L. Wick, 42, the battalion's commander, such a project would exceed 3/24's humanitarian assistance budget. Wick didn't deny the request, however. He offered to bring the sheik's concerns up the chain of command, which might be able to find funds to carry out such a plan.
The meeting came to an abrupt end when a firefight broke out within earshot of the village. The skirmish was originally thought to be an engagement between other Marines in the area and insurgents, but it was later found out to be Iraqi on Iraqi.
Capt. Adam T. Strickland, 32, a platoon commander with the battalion, said it was important for the Marines to leave the village when the fighting started.
"On this type of mission, [enemy] contact trumps the mission," said Strickland, a Richmond, Va., resident. "We don't want to bring fire into the village that we're working with because we're going to have innocents hurt, which kind of negates what we're trying to do out there in the first place."
While determining if American service members were involved in the battle, the Marines happened upon an old anti-aircraft gun not found during any of the previous trips into the area. It looked to be in the process of being fixed, said Strickland. The Marines confiscated the weapon on their way out of the village and added it to the number of weapons they had already captured.
Two days prior, 3/24 Marines on a routine patrol outside the village stumbled upon what is believed to be one of the largest weapons caches unearthed in the Al Anbar Province this year.
Hoping to improve the people's quality of life by ridding the area of numerous types of weapons systems and removing dangerous explosives, the battalion also hunts for and disposes of any ammunition found in the area.
The unit has visited several villages in the area to deliver school supplies, clothes and water.
Two companies from the battalion, based in Bridgeton and Springfield, Mo., also provide security for the camp. The other three companies are spread throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force's area of operations.