JUBBAH, Iraq -- A U.S. convoy rolls through the town here stopping at random intervals ensuring there are no explosive devices. Local citizens sit along the adobe buildings and stare at this everyday occurrence. As the vehicles suddenly stop and the Marines from one humvee get out and walk to the back of the vehicle, the locals appear nervous by the new and unusual action. The group of Marines return with boxes filled with stuffed animals and soccer balls while children quickly gather to receive the gifts. Civil Affairs Group Marines experience this sort of scenario nearly everyday.
The Marines of Detachment 1, 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force, have a tough job on their hands. While many Marines are looking for new enemies to destroy and buildings to assault, the Marines with CAG are looking for improved ways to enhance the way the locals live and for ways to better the relationship between the locals and the U.S. military.
"Our mission is to support (First Marine Expeditionary Force) and (Multi-National Forces-West) in their endeavors to create a secure and independent Iraq," said Gunnery Sgt. Erik E. Duane, detachment chief, Detachment 1.
Enhancing the standards of living for the citizens of Iraq is just one effort of the CAG Marines.
"We provide jobs for the adults by setting up local projects," said Cpl. Ryan M. Sweet, CAG noncommissioned officer, Detachment 1. "We engage them in the governing of their local area, as well as help them raise community sanitization."
The CAG Marines work to strengthen their relationship every day by going out into the local towns to be seen by the Iraqis and to help them rebuild.
"If we don't build a strong relationship with the Iraqis, we will never set ourselves up for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq," said Duane, a native of Westminster, Calif. "The Iraqis and Americans must learn to work with and trust each other to defeat acts of terrorism and the insurgency. A strong relationship ensures that both parties are willing to share in the fight and the risks involved."
According to Sweet, building a relationship with the Iraqi people isn't easy due to past occurrences.
"To build a relationship with the local populace, you need to keep re-engaging them," said Sweet, a native of Meridian, Miss. "We need to continuously see them."
"Just like any relationship, you must spend time developing it and we do that by trying to make a difference in their lives," said Duane. "Affecting their quality of life is the most obvious way we can accomplish this task. Ensuring they have clean water, ensuring their government is making good on deliveries of food subsidies, monitoring fuel prices and putting forth efforts to stop black marketeering are all within the spectrum of relationship-building tasks. We show that we care about them and their future through our actions and not just words alone."
While the final goal of the CAG Marines is to be able to leave Iraq in the capable hands of a free Iraqi people, they know that the task is a long process with no easy way to accomplish it.
"Security is our number one concern," said Duane. "We can establish relationships, build bridges and schools all we want, but without security, the end result will be that what we just built will be destroyed."