Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Soldiers give poor Iraqis economic alternatives

by Ben Hutto
367th MPAD

PB HAMIYAH (Jan. 20, 2010) – One-by-one, they filtered into the small room, Jan. 12, filled with hope and carrying sad stories in their hearts.

A 20-year-old widow with five children told how her husband was taken in the middle of the night, three years ago, by "bad men." She told how his body was found a week later and how hard it has been to support her family.

A 17-year-old boy came in wearing a tattered pink jacket. He said he was forced to drop out of school to support his brother's children. When asked why he had to do that, he explained in a sad voice that his older brother and father were both killed by terrorists a few years ago.

The list of the needy went on and on that morning.

Life in Khidr, Iraq, a small village in an area once dubbed "the Triangle of Death" by the American media at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, can be hard. The area still doesn't have a local police force, although a police station is under construction.

The 8th Iraqi Army Division maintains security as best they can, but a local shaykh says that financial help from the Iraqi government is slow in making its way to the area.

"All farmers in Iraq have a right to go to the government and ask for help," he said, "but it is never enough for the farmers here, if they get anything at all."

So far, the Americans have been key to taking up the slack, he said.

"The U.S. Forces have been very helpful giving us projects," he said. "If the Americans don't help us, who will? I honestly don't know."

On Oct. 12, the Soldiers of "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, working out of Patrol Base Hamiyah, were there to provide much-needed help for the widows and poor of the area.

The battalion brought contracts that will help 70 poor widows and farmers establish turkey farms, bee keeping houses and irrigation wells.

As the applicants signed their names to the contracts, Staff Sgt. Jon Kirkendall, a squad leader in "B" Company, from Portsmouth, Ohio, said he could see many of them finally feeling a glimmer of hope.

"These people are exactly who these programs are designed for," he said. "You can see many of them are desperate for a way to take care of their families. Hopefully, these projects can help them find a way to become self-sufficient."

According to Sgt. Brian Wilson, a Soldier from Fort Lewis attached to "B" Company, the three programs are perfect for the people they are helping, because they are designed to be self-sufficient enterprises that require very little work on the part of the applicants.

"Honey bees thrive in this area," said Wilson, a native of Elk Grove, Calif. "It will really just be a matter of the widows waiting for them to make honey and draining it off. The turkey applicants will receive 30 turkeys that will start reproducing a few months after they arrive. With the feed we will provide for the birds, all the applicants really have to do is feed their animals and wait."

While the cost of starting these projects isn't that high, Wilson said, the benefit of them could potentially be enormous.

"As long as the applicants are allowed to do what the program is designed for, I think they can all be self-sufficient," he said. "Obviously, not all 70 applicants will be successful, but even if ten make it, it will have been worthwhile."

Those ten may not have had much hope outside for the program, Wilson said.

"These programs are reaching a segment of Iraq that, traditionally, has had very few opportunities to support themselves and their families," he said.

As the applicants filed out of the small room, Wilson and Kirkendall gave each a handshake and wished them luck. Wilson told every applicant that they would be contacted around the first of next month to begin the delivery of their animals and equipment.

"It feels good to help folks," said Kirkendall. "You just hope that they all find a way to make it last and take care of their families."

PHOTO: Sgt. Brian Wilson congratulates a farmer in Khidr after he signs an economic project contract that will provide him with 30 turkeys and feed to support them. The contracts, aimed at helping the needy in northern Babil province, will give struggling families a way to support their families without having to turn to terrorist cells for support.

Source: CENTCOM.

May you walk with the LORD always, and when you cannot take another step, may He carry you the rest of the way until you can walk along side Him again.

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