AL ASAD, Iraq -- Amidst the debris of a war-torn country lies a landmark from biblical history. With a lush green sanctuary of trees and vegetation surrounding a small pool of calm water rests the Al Asad Oasis, which has almost been untouched by the war.
According to Arabic legend, the Quran and other Islamic writings, the oasis was the campsite of Abraham, a patriarch of the Hebrew bible, during his journey from Ur, located near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, now named Tellel-Mukayyar, to Harran, located in southeastern Turkey, now Carrhae.
The village, then named Eyen Al Asad, which means "Spring of the Lion," is now in ruins due to the Iran-Iraq War which plagued the area in the early 1980s.
Today, the Al Asad air base is inhabited by U.S. forces and the oasis is known as the Al Asad Oasis. Iraqis, U.S. service members and third country nationals continue to visit the landmark during their time in Al Asad.
Because there are so many visitors to the area, garbage builds up on the banks of the pool. To revive the natural beauty of the landscape, a sailor with the chaplain's office, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, scheduled a cleanup of the location to help preserve the site for future visitors.
"Although the area has not been destroyed by the war, a lot of people tour the area and leave trash," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Hatondra D. Willis, religious program specialist, MAG-16 (Reinforced) and Reed, Ark., native. "I thought that if people were going to continue to tour the area, it would be better if it were clean, due to its religious significance."
In order to get the job done, the chaplain's office informed the Base Defense Operations Center of the visit and got the word out for volunteers to help.
"We needed to let the BDOC know what our plan was, so that the Military Police that patrol the area would know that we would be there and what we would be doing," said Navy Lt. John R. Logan, MAG-16 (Reinforced) chaplain. "We make sure to keep them in the loop, for safety reasons."
When the group arrived at the oasis May 20, Logan gave a class on the religious significance of the area and delivered a prayer before the cleanup began.
"Just knowing that you are standing on the same ground as a holy man once stood is extremely inspiring," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leslie A. Gillen, administration officer, MAG-16 (Reinforced). "It is nice to do a good deed, but to be able to give something back to the Lord is truly a rewarding experience."
Wearing gloves and carrying garbage bags, the volunteers circled the pool of the oasis and moved into the tree line where they picked up every piece of trash that could be found.
"The oasis looked like an overgrown dump," Gillen said. "We picked up anything from water bottles to shoes and plane parts."
Although the cleanup was the main focus of the visit, some of the volunteers used it as an opportunity to see the oasis for the first time and learn some of its history.
"I wanted to learn the story of Abraham and this place," said Sgt. Daniel P. Bertagnoli, a flight equipment technician, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, MAG-16 (Reinforced) and Colorado Springs, Colo., native. "I am a Christian and wanted to visit this place and do what I can to preserve it."
At the end of the cleanup, Logan spoke to the group a little more about the oasis and delivered a closing prayer before the group loaded the buses to leave the area.
"Two objectives were accomplished at the oasis," said Logan, a Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, native. "We contributed to the conservation of a holy site and learned the history of a patriarch whose journey played a key role in the establishment of three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam."