Friday, October 19, 2007

Ironhorse Brigade helps, brick by brick, villagers rebuild lives

18 Sept 2007
By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp
1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.

FALAHAT, Iraq – Soldiers from “Dagger” Troop D, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division joined with members of the brigade’s Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team and Company A, 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion to assist local tribal sheiks and villagers with several construction projects, Sept. 16.

Working side by side, villagers and Soldiers moved construction supplies to include wheel barrows, shovels and wood among other building materials from a truck provided by Dagger Troop that transported the materials to a site where a store is being built. Additionally, the troops delivered a brand new generator to be used once the store is completed.

Dagger Troop coordinated the effort that will donate the store to a local family that has no source of income due to the sole breadwinner being disabled. Building supplies delivered to the site will also be used to build a house for a Falahat family, currently living in a mud hut, and to repair a second house in the village that was damaged during an insurgent attack nearly five months ago.

“We’re glad to see that security has improved enough to where we can begin reconstruction here and it’s especially important to do this during Ramadan because it ties in well with the Islamic principle of Zakarat which means charity,” said Capt. Martin Wohlgemuth, Dagger Troop commander and a native of Anchorage, Alaska. “All of the families we’re helping are poor so it makes this just that much more special.”

“It’s helping us to build better collaboration and improve our relations with the locals here,” said 1st Lt. Mike Blake, a platoon leader in Dagger Troop and a native of Baltimore. “We’ve gotten to know the people extremely well and they trust us. During events like this, the whole community comes together to help each other and they treat us just like we’re part of their community.”

A few days prior to this particular event, Soldiers from Dagger Troop had already transported 4,000 bricks and 26 tons of mortar to the building site.

A local Iraqi contractor is providing the labor and overseeing the building projects.

The Ironhorse EPRT paid for the building supplies with quick reaction funds from the U.S. State Department which are funds the department sets aside for non-profit organizations, businesses and for special construction projects such as those in Falahat.

“It’s all about facilitating Iraqi efforts to promote accelerated social and economic development,” said Maj. David Parker, an EPRT transition officer and a native of Savannah, Ga., explaining the purpose of the funds.

“This is a great opportunity to help them rebuild their own country and see them take pride in ownership,” said Maj. Jesse Larson, Ironhorse EPRT civil affairs officer, who hails from Kansas City, Kan. “Eventually as the security situation continues improving, the Iraqi government will step up and be taking over these types of projects.”

After all the supplies had been delivered to the site, the Iraqi contractor began working with laborers, who he hired to work on the project, to create a foundation for the store. They dug trenches in which to emplace bricks for the walls of the structure and set several of the bricks in place.

According to Wohlgemuth, it should only take about five to seven days for the contractor to complete the store with the construction and repairs on the two houses to be completed over a period of several weeks.

Recent successful reconciliation efforts in the area have helped to accelerate projects in the village and Soldiers said they have been amazed by the village’s transformation.

“There’s been a very dramatic change, it’s been four months since we’ve had a major attack, and we used to be attacked nearly everyday,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Lien, an acting platoon sergeant in Dagger Troop who hails from Whitewater, Wis. “We’ve worked closely with local tribal sheiks and the (Iraqi security volunteers) to kick out insurgents and the difference has been like night and day.”

“It’s pretty fantastic to see that the people here are showing their support for reconciliation efforts in the area, and this has been an incredible success when you compare it with how things were before,” said Pfc. Warren Griffen, a Dagger troop forward observer and a native of Rochester, N.Y.

So far, the combined efforts of Dagger troops working with the Iraqi security volunteers have led to the finding of many improvised explosive devices, weapons caches and the detaining of several Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters greatly improving the security situation, said Blake.

Future projects for the village, said Wohlgemuth include the refurbishing of schools, the fixing of water lines and the pursuit of more projects, similar to the construction effort, that will put the villagers back to work.

Photo - Staff Sgt. Nicholas Lien, left, an acting platoon sergeant, and Staff Sgt. Kevin Sartor, center, a forward observer, both from Dagger Troop, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regt., offload building supplies with the help of a local Iraqi man in Falahat, Iraq, Sept. 16, as part of a humanitarian effort to rebuild the socio-economic infrastructure of the village. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp.

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