CAMP MANHATTAN, Iraq -- While fighting goes on only a few miles away in Ramadi and Fallujah, Marines are making progress on another front.
During a meeting at this small Army base in central Iraq on Sept. 17, 2004, Marines and a local Iraqi contractor spoke the same language – business.
The meeting - which resembled any other business meeting, except that everyone involved spoke through a translator - took place in a small air conditioned room, while less than 100 yards away, soldiers with machine guns manned the entrance to the base.
After greetings and handshakes it was time to get down to business. With Cpl. Jesse C. Kuschel, a javelin gunner serving as the information operations chief for 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, scribing the minutes of the meeting, the Marines opened first with a “Thank You” to the local contractor who recently saved the U.S. close to $10,000.
This amount sounds like pennies when put next to the billions allocated to the rebuilding effort of Iraq, but during a time of strife in many parts of the country, this small gesture is a significant step forward for both Iraqis and Americans.
The contractor saved the U.S. money by redesigning a water pump system that will bring clean water to an Iraqi village near Camp Taqaddum, a Marine base close to Fallujah and Ramadi. The new system will operate from a cheaper generator of lesser power output than what the contractor initially determined, said Maj. Luke W. Kratky, the information officer for 3/24.
The initial cost of the project was $39,000, however, refinements saved money that can now be used for other projects, explained Kratky, a Bridgeton, Mo native.
The contractor could have pocketed the money and never mentioned it, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dwight Torres, information officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, who headed the meeting. It shows that he is willing to help, and that the Marines can trust him to do good things while they are here, said the 35-year-old Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, native.
The Iraqi contractor (who is left anonymous for his safety) has worked with Marines on numerous projects over the past seven months including providing electricity, refurbishing schools, and general clean up for local towns and villages.
As the translator kept the conversation flowing, the Marines and contractor nodded and gestured as if there was no need for him to be there.
Working with the Marines is good for all Iraqis, said the contractor. He went on to say that he wishes more people could see the cooperation between the Americans and Iraqis, and the improvements to their communities when they work together. “So much focus is on the destruction instead of the positive things that are happening,” he said.
The number of Iraqis working for the contractor has significantly increased since he began working with the Marines in February. All the people benefit, from laborers and truck drivers to shop owners, he said. Such cooperation has been one of the main goals since coalition forces began operating here.
In communities where the contractor has completed projects, the locals seem optimistic and have started taking care of their villages with more pride, said Torres.
Another objective of this meeting was to introduce Torres as the new business partner for the contractor. Kratky is passing the portfolio on to Torres as part of a larger unit change over between 3/24, a St. Louis based reserve infantry unit, and 2/10, a Camp Lejeune-based artillery unit now serving as a provisional infantry unit. Both units are responsible for providing base and convoy security and are assigned to the 1st Force Service Support Group, which provides all logistical support and services for Marines in Iraq.
A seamless transition will ensure the contractor stays comfortable doing business with the Marines, said Kratky. “The faces are going to change but the promises that are made are going to be kept.”
The translator continued to pass messages between the two parties about village improvement projects and the estimated costs involved. The incoming battalion is hoping to receive a proposed amount of more than a million dollars to continue working with local Iraqi communities throughout the next seven months, which means more meetings with more translation.
Through 3/24’s efforts, approximately $320,000 has already been spent in a successful attempt to rebuild neglected areas near here.
When all business was passed, the Marines and the contractor shook hands and smiled, knowing that through their business ventures they are accomplishing what many had hoped when coalition forces arrived.
They departed with the words “We look forward to meeting again in two weeks,” – through a translator of course.