CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- They called, and we answered.
American forces and Iraqi soldiers reached out in response to local civilians' requests for medical care and school supplies during a humanitarian mission here Nov. 27.
"The civil affairs piece (of our mission in Iraq)... it's how we build a relationship and build trust in their community, and also how we help the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi infrastructure stand up on their own," said Army Capt. Adam A. Gilbertson, 30 from Moorhead, Minn.
The Iraqi Army led service members from door to door in the town of Mujar, interacting with locals and offering aid in any way possible. Civilians who seemed initially apprehensive soon became friendly, offering gratitude and sometimes tea to their visitors.
"With somebody carrying a rifle, (who) speaks their language, walking up to them and asking them questions, (the civilians) were kind of stand-offish," said Army 1st Lt. Sean M. Kiesz, a 26-year-old platoon leader for Able Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion of the 136th Infantry Regiment, attached to 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
"(But) as time went by they got a reassuring feeling, and they opened up," continued Kiesz, from Bismark, N.D.
"This is the first time the Iraqi Army appeared in Mujar since 2003 when they were under Saddam's leadership," said Gilbertson, company commander, 2-136. Gilbertson said that this time the Iraqi Army's approach was probably different.
"The Iraqi Army brought an ambulance, so that we were able to bring people to the clinic right from their homes," said Gilbertson.
In a united effort, American and Iraqi forces set up a temporary medical-care clinic adjacent to the town's public school. Simultaneously, Iraqi Soldiers and American service members traveled door to door, stopping to inform citizens of the clinic as well as talk about any concerns local citizens might have had.
"(This mission) gives citizens in the area exposure to the military with something other than a combat military operation," said Army Lt. Col. Joseph T. Burns, 50, from Fargo, N.D.
Citizens talked openly with the Iraqi Army once they learned the purpose of mission. At one home, an Iraqi interpreter proclaimed with a smile "Don't worry, the good guys are here!" An Iraqi man and his wife chuckled at the interpreter, and Iraqi soldiers scooped up their smiling children.
"It's a goodwill builder, which is certainly important in what we're doing here," said Burns, battalion surgeon for 2-136.
Along with medical attention, service members presented the school with numerous boxes filled with pens, pencils, papers, dolls and soccer balls. Lined up in eager anticipation, the children walked away with armfuls of supplies, handed to them directly by Iraqi soldiers.
"It's very important to get the Iraqi Army involved," said Army Staff Sgt. Brian M. Ness, 24, from Winona, Minn. and medic with 2-136. It shows the people that their soldiers are part of their eventual independence, added Ness. Kiesz agreed and emphasized the importance of Iraqi children to international relations.
"If we can build trust in (an Iraqi) kid, then when he grows up and becomes a soldier or a town leader, that relationship will still be there," said Kiesz.
The future was on the minds of many Americans and Iraqis during the mission. And in the eyes of some service members, rebuilding Iraq's educational system is as important as rebuilding their army.
"When we educate the kids, it's better for them because in the long run they are going to be the leaders of this country," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle B. Whiteman, corpsman with Personal Security Detail, 1st MLG (Forward).
"The more educated they are, the better the country will become," continued Whiteman, 23, from Dayton, Ohio.
Iraqi school officials also received a 500 dollar check from Iraqi Army General Behe'a Hussein Abed Hassen on behalf of 2-136. But for a few service members, no price tag could be attached to the support and improved morale supplied by American and Iraqi forces.
"No matter what it is, security, medical, or just someone to talk to, they know that we're here for that... they can definitely move forward from this point on," said Petty Officer 1st Class Amber N. Floyd, a 32-year-old from Atlanta and a corpsman with Taqaddum Surgical, 1st MLG (Forward).
"(This mission) achieved the idea that the Iraqi Army is a valuable part to freedom for this country," said Ness, "they showed that they can make a difference in their own community."