By Sgt. Ben Brody
3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs
YUSUFIYAH, Iraq – In the farmland south of Baghdad, quality medical care is hard to come by.
There are few doctors, and even if a resident could afford to see a doctor in the city, travel to Baghdad is difficult at best.
The dusty roads, once devoid of any security presence, are now lined with razor wire and punctuated with Iraqi army and U.S. checkpoints, making it as difficult for farmers to travel as it is for armed insurgents.
So instead of the farmers going to the doctor’s office, a team of U.S. Soldiers brought the doctor’s office to the people.
Soldiers from C Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, set up a makeshift clinic at the schoolhouse in Qarghuli Village, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and invited residents to come in for treatment, primarily for stomach ailments caused by drinking from the irrigation canals flowing from the nearby Euphrates River.
In the blazing heat, Soldiers rigged camouflage netting to shade the villagers waiting for treatment. Troops providing security from gun trucks traversed their machine guns across surrounding fields, as loudspeakers broadcast the Soldiers’ invitation in a prerecorded Arabic message.
“This is a regular mission for us, because it’s one of the best things we can do to improve peoples’ lives without spending a ton of money,” said Capt. Shane Finn, C Co., 4/31 Inf., commander. “This is something any rifle company can put together on the spot, and it goes a long way building trust with the people here.”
Finn, from Clinton, N.Y., said medical operations have become a “battle drill,” a mission that has been rehearsed and executed so often that all the Soldiers know their roles and little advance planning is needed.
As entire families made their way through the village to the school, it became clear that both the Soldiers and the villagers had something to gain from the operation. As residents collected medicine and school supplies, village sheikhs and local medical providers came to speak with Finn.
“The sheiks say that as we push Al Qaeda fighters out of the area, local doctors and nurses are becoming more capable of caring for Qarghuli’s people,” Finn said. “That’s the end state – Iraqis taking care of Iraqis.”
The American infantrymen and medics conducting the operation seemed to know most of the people coming in for treatment. Some of the Iraqi men greeted Soldiers by name.
Two brothers, aged 17 and 20 but both under four feet tall, showed up. They were well-known to the Soldiers, who seemed delighted to see the pair. The brothers left with a new soccer ball and water-treatment pills.
“The medical ops help Soldiers understand the village’s culture, and they get the locals accustomed to us in a good way,” said 1st Sgt. David Simpson of Dallas Center, Iowa, the C Co., 4/31 Inf. first sergeant. “They know that they can come to us if they need help – lately we’ve been seeing 30 to 50 villagers a week at our gates.”
While the main purpose of the operation was to diagnose and treat sick Iraqis, a handful of Iraqi Provincial Volunteers, former insurgents and militiamen recruited to fight Al Qaeda, appeared and briefed the Soldiers on some of their recent successes.
“Say what you want about (alliances with former enemies) but IEDs have been way down since we started working with the IPVs,” said Pvt. Keith Wray, a 4/31 Inf. medic. “It’s definitely safer here than it was.”
The operation placed a special emphasis on talking to the local women to assess village conditions, said Sgt 1st Class Lita Fraley of 478th Civil Affairs Battalion.
“With the roads blocked by checkpoints, it’s easier for women to get through without a hassle – so a lot of the traveling men used to do is now falling on the women,” Fraley, from Houston, Texas, said. “The locals think it’s about time to open the roads back up.”
In about five hours, the Soldiers treated 176 Qarghuli residents and demonstrably strengthened their relationship with the village. The evidence: five hours in a former insurgent hotbed without a single gunshot, explosion, thrown rock or shouted curse. The village was all smiles.
Friday, August 10, 2007
By Sgt. Ben Brody