Sunday, August 19, 2007

Project Starter Troops Take Interest in Iraqis' Quality of Life

6 Aug 07
By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma
Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Texas-based “Thunderhorse” Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are pushing projects to improve the quality of life for the residents of northwestern Baghdad.

During a routine patrol through the streets of the Iraqi capital’s Shula neighborhood Aug. 1, the tan-colored Humvees, manned by Company A’s 2nd “Dirty Deuce” Platoon, made several stops, one at a near-deserted all-boys school and another at an electric substation.

“We’ll go in there and get a quick assessment and see what we need. If it is something we can handle at the battalion level through surplus funds. We’ll go ahead and start initiating a project,” 1st Lt. Jonathan Gilotti said.

School’s Out.

On their first stop, the Soldiers set foot into an all-boys primary school. Gilotti, the officer in charge of the information operations campaign, initiated a conversation to find out what the unit could do to help the community. The native of Avon, Conn., said that when he asked about the problems the school needed assistance with, he got a somewhat expected response, similar to all the schools in the area – this is one of seven in their sector.

“There was very little electricity, water problems, the walls needed slight renovations, more tables and chairs were needed, but nothing too big,” he said. “Things like tables and chairs or a small project like a basic sewage problem we could usually handle that at the battalion level through our surplus funds, which is basically the commander’s emergency relief fund.

"The battalions are allocated a certain amount of money they can use for civil military operations related projects,” he said. “Basically, any project that we can perform that benefits the community.”

With notes scribbled on pocket size pad of paper and a couple megabytes of digital images loaded onto his camera, the Dirty Deuce rolled out to their next stop.

Power to the People.

When the wheels came to a halt once again, the Soldiers found themselves parked in the gated area of the Hurriya Kabil electrical substation, which provides power directly to the neighborhoods in their area of operation: Shula’s Al Katieb, Rhamanyia and Jawadine. With a jolly, big-bellied interpreter by his side, Gilotti discovered a serious obstacle between the people of the area and their electricity. Gilotti said that the substation is located right next to a busy route known for it’s improvised explosive devices. On June 13, one of their lines was damaged by crossfire that cut the plant’s capability in half, forcing people to rely on personal generators.

When issues arose about two months ago, the unit sent out Soldiers to distribute neighborhood generators. The community responded with resounding contentment with the electrical situation, said Gilotti. He explained that the area is under a different type of influence.

“JAM (Jaish Al Mahdi militia) does two things against the Americans. One, it will go against us in kinetic operations, EFP (explosively-formed projectile) attacks, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attacks, small arms fire attacks, and at the same time, they will target us in a negative information campaign,” the armor officer said. “They’ll campaign against us saying ‘The Americans won’t provide services for you. Americans don’t do anything to help the community out.’ So, they will get the locals to turn against us and they won’t give up information about the terrorists that operate in the area that conduct attacks on us.”

It wasn’t until recently when the "Thunderhorse" Battalion started conducting more humanitarian projects that the locals realized that JAM wasn’t providing the services while the Americans were making attempts.

“They started working with us, trying to give us as much information as possible so in turn we kept pushing to do more and more projects and start doing more assessments to see what else we could do for the community,” said Gilotti.

Providing the Visibility.

Gilotti is the liaison between patrol reports and the next level of civil military operations.

“I’ll turn it over to the civil military operations team for our brigade and they’ll bring out actual specialists who will look at the project, see where the loose ends are that need to be tied together and they will start working with [the] ministry of electricity and [the] government of Iraq to start (to) get the ball rolling,” he said. “I am a simple reporter,” Gilotti said, adding that he will continue reporting and pushing projects to his higher-ups. “Sometimes when you really do want to make a difference, you have to be a pain … you've got to keep pushing and pushing … and that’s what makes a difference.”

Although the unit hasn’t seen the long-term effects because of the frequency of attacks in their area of operation, he said, they have seen the initial reaction of the people by taking an interest in their well-being. “In the time that the battalion is here, what we can do is provide a little bit of comfort to the community,” Gilotti said. “If locals can say, ‘While this unit was here they took an interest in our quality of life and made an effort to make a difference and we appreciate it,’ that is sometimes all we can ask for.”

Photo - 1st Lt. Jonathan Gilotti, officer in charge of information operations with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, gets information from employees of the Hurriya Kabil electrical substation in Baghdad's Shula neighborhood Aug. 1. The Soldiers of 2-12th Cavalry operate in Baghdad's northwestern neighborhoods as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Photo by Spc. Jeff Ledesma.

Source: Multi-National Force-Iraq.

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