AL ASAD, Iraq -- The two parties stare at each other from across a table that is filled with bottled water, sports drinks and soda cans. One side filled with local Iraqis from the neighboring area dressed in jeans, T-shirts and baseball hats. The other side is wearing the digital camouflaged uniforms with the eagle, globe and anchor embroidered on the chest over their hearts. Brief remarks from both sides are translated for the other to understand, turning the entire room into an eruption of laugher, as they continue to discuss the rebuilding of Iraq.
Town Council meetings are held twice a week between local Iraqi leaders and Marines from the area, as well as the Civil Affairs Group.
One of the reasons the mood during these meetings are so light is because of Gunnery Sgt. Erik E. Duane, detachment chief, Detachment 1, 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force. He is a CAG Marine with a very unique friendship with the local Iraqis.
Gunny is a nickname commonly given to any Marine that reaches the rank of gunnery sergeant. In Duane's case, both the locals and his Marines have taken to calling him Gunny.
"The relationship Gunny has with the Iraqis is exceptional," said Cpl. Jesus O. Luna, civil affairs noncommissioned officer, Detachment 1. "He is professional and personal with them. When it is time to just shoot the breeze, he is very easy going and relaxed, but when it is time to talk business, it is done his way and as straight forward as possible."
According to Cpl. Ryan M. Sweet, civil affairs noncommissioned officer, Detachment 1, the locals look to Duane as a champion and liberator.
"The Iraqis love him," said Sweet, a native of Meridan, Miss. "They tend to call him Sheik Gunny or Captain Gunny since he has improved their life so much already. They go to him with every little problem they have, hoping he will be able to fix it."
"Gunny has helped improve our lives greatly," said Shu'aib Barzan Hamreen Al Aubaidy, Iraqi policeman and manager of waste disposal for Baghdadi. "He has started projects to pick up our trash and to help give us clean water. He even helped deliver us bottled water when there was an attack on the water treatment plant."
According to Duane, a native of Westminster, Calif., there are a lot of projects planned for the near future for the local Iraqi residents.
"We have water and sewage treatment projects planned, as well as numerous repairs to the local schools and residences," said Duane. "We are also working closely with the local leaders to establish a strong governance in this area."
According Luna, a native of Imperial Beach, Calif., it is important that the CAG Marines build a strong relationship with the local Iraqis to ensure that they accomplish their mission.
"We need to be as close as possible with the Iraqis," said Luna. "Without their trust, our job is impossible. Gunny Duane has earned their trust and respect."
"We must learn to work with and trust each other in order to defeat acts of terrorism and insurgency," said Duane. "A strong relationship ensures that both parties are willing to share in the fight and the risks involved."
Because of Duane's willingness to help the Iraqis and his effective projects, the Iraqis have given him a nickname and bestowed other honors upon him.
"Gunny is the lion," said Shu'aib. "We call him that because he is a great friend and does everything he can for us. People throughout the town thank me for what I have done, and I tell them, 'Don't thank me, thank the Marines. They are the ones who make us able to do this.' Gunny is my brother. When I die I hope he will mourn for me."
Duane has been made a member of the Aubaidy tribe and is now considered the brother and family member of many of the local residents.
When it comes to making Iraq a little better, Duane and his CAG Marines are not only ready to do the job, but they enjoy it as well.
"This job is very rewarding," said Duane. "I have one of the few jobs that produce results that we can see and touch. We assist in gaining the trust and confidence of the local Iraqis. The best part about the job is when the local Iraqis start to take pride in their communities and when they do things to better their conditions on their own."