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Medical evaluations among latest operations Marines, sailors teach Iraqi Security Forces

11 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Iraqis from the Euphrates River villages of Al Amari, Haffha and Zella  say they have never had immediate, quality health care.

U.S. Marines in the region are looking to change that.

Recently, Marines and sailors from the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, along with a handful of Iraqi soldiers, provided two days of medical evaluations to citizens of the small villages in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The operation was the first of its kind in the area where Iraqi soldiers and Marines conduct daily security patrols, weeding out insurgents and the improvised explosive devices terrorists plant alongside Iraq’s roadways.

“We’re here to help the people with their medical problems and seeing what types of medical needs the Iraqis have in this area,” said Navy Lt. Leonard Blinder, the battalion’s surgeon. “Eventually, the Iraqis will have to carry out operations like this by themselves with their own doctors.”

An Iraqi Army officer was present with several Jundi – Iraqi Army privates – in order to learn how to conduct an operation of this nature on their own as Iraqi Security Forces continue towards taking the lead from U.S. forces on all military operations in Iraq.

The team of Iraqi soldiers, Marines, and Navy corpsmen set up their temporary medical clinics at elementary schools in each town. They advertised the free medical evaluations through a loudspeaker and the citizens responded immediately. During the ‘doctor visits,’ patients described their grievances and U.S. physicians evaluated the problems.

Within several hours, more than 100 Iraqis received an evaluation by the Americans. The large turnout for the village of less than 1,000 Iraqis was a clear sign that cooperation is improving between Iraqis and the Iraqi Army, according to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Christoforo, team corpsman for 3rd Civil Affairs Group.

As the citizens made the short trek to the clinics, they were immediately greeted by Iraqi soldiers who provided security.

“It was the Iraqi soldiers who the people saw right away when coming to this clinic and they were able to see that it was the Iraqis taking charge,” said Staff Sgt. Jason C. Neale, a platoon sergeant with the battalion’s Company A.

Neale stresses the importance of operations like these because the Iraqis living in the tiny villages in this remote corner of the country have seen very little of the Iraqi Army, he said.

The battalion has just recently begun patrolling many of the small Euphrates River communities, which had no previous contact with Coalition forces until the Marines built an outpost, or battle position, near the numerous villages.

U.S. military physicians treated a number of Iraqi patients, many who were suffering from rashes, infections and muscular pain, according to the corpsmen.

Medication was provided whenever possible, while several of the Iraqis with medical conditions beyond the capabilities of the clinic were directed to the local hospital in Ubaydi, more than 20 miles away.

dDuring the second day of the operation, Marines and sailors went house-to-house to inform citizens of the free medical evaluations.

“It’s just one way that we are demonstrating to the locals that we are here to help them and we want to make sure they are not helping the insurgents,” said Blinder.

For each patient assessment, an Iraqi officer stood by taking notes and interacting with the people of the village. The 35-year-old officer spoke with every patient and provided a relaxed atmosphere among the throng of villagers by answering their questions, according to the U.S. physicians.

Overall, citizens were friendly and responded in large numbers to the operation according to Neale, who has exchanged smiles and greetings with citizens while patrolling the streets here on a daily basis.

The recent presence of the Marines here is eliminating any possible hiding place for insurgents looking to settle in the area, according to Neale.

“We didn’t expect any problems from the people,” said Neale. “The people know we’re out here every day and that we want to help them.”

Despite the positive response from the locals, Marines living in this area are still encountering improvised explosive devices and mortar fire on a near-daily basis.

Until recently, the only presence the locals had with the Marines and Iraqi Army were daily security patrols, according to 1st Lt. Craig O. Davis, a platoon commander with Company A.

“We’re trying to gain as much intelligence about the insurgency in this area as we can,” said Davis. “For every patrol the Iraqi soldiers are with us and that’s important because they really help us out when we’re trying to talk to the people.”

During daily security patrols, Davis said it is not unlikely to encounter locals who seek the Marines out for some type of medical assistance.

When Company A Marines patrol through an area, a corpsman will sometimes aid the locals however he can or he will point them in the right direction to seek further medical care, said Davis.

While this is the first operation of its kind in the small villages bordering the Euphrates River, Marines and sailors plan on holding similar future operations alongside Iraqi soldiers, they said.

“The more we do these types of operations, the better the Iraqi  soldiers will be able to handle security on their own,” said Christoforo.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil