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Civil Affairs Marines visit villages near Fallujah

7 May 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Marines put a new twist on mending fences in a village near Fallujah.

About two weeks ago, an M-1A1 tank was mired in mud in the small village of Al Budekil.  Retriever crews yanked the monstrous vehicle from a farm field, but tore up valuable cropland in the process.  A recent visit, though, not only fixed the problems, but allowed Marines to gain the trust of local Iraqis.

Marines from 3rd Civil Affairs Group, based out of Camp Pendleton, visited the hamlet dubbed Tank Village and surrounding communities May 6 to compensate for the damages.

"All of this is a chain reaction from where the tank got stuck," said Lt. Col. Colin P. McNease, the officer-in-charge of the 3rd CAG detachment under Regimental Combat Team 1.  "Aside from paying for damages, we told them we could start some projects out here."

It didn't take long for the word to spread that Marines have taken an interest in lending a helping hand.

"People from other villages heard that we compensated for the damages, but also saw that we brought fertilizer and tools for that one village," McNease explained. "As we were leaving, they waved us down wondering if we're willing to work with their villages too."

The help for the villagers couldn't come at a better time.  Planting season is starting for Iraqi farmers and Marines helped by delivering about 50 tons of fertilizer.

"We're also going to do some irrigation work to help them get started," McNease said.

Other smaller steps have been made in villages surrounding the city.  Marines are planning on paving two kilometers of road and have already paid out damage claims that were a result of fighting last month.

"One of my jobs is to pay claims and to give money for good-will projects," said Maj. Greg G. Gillette, staff judge advocate for RCT-1.  "We paid a farmer $4,500 dollars for damages to his car, three cows that were killed and for his crops," added Gillette, a native of New York, Pa.

Gillette said the compensation may not pay for the entire damage, but it will certainly help the farmer get back on his feet.

Gillette works with village sheiks mostly, but at times he speaks directly with villagers presenting the claims.

"I need corroboration, so I mostly deal directly with the tribal sheiks," said Gillette. "We paid... a sheik $9,000 as a good-will payment for damages his village suffered during some of the fighting."

It wasn't just a time to mend fences through.  Marines gave in to children swarming them, giving away pens and pencils, soccer balls, nets and Frisbees donated by Spirit of America, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles.

"It's great being able to interact with people in a kind way and make them smile," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron M. Fullmer, a religious program specialist for RCT-1 from Las Vegas. "If nothing else, it gives them a better view of Americans - exactly what they need."

Marines plan for more visits to the village, hoping that the next won't be about damages from fighting.

"I'm sure there are some people who don't want this program to succeed, but the people working with us right now want it to," McNease said. "It's coming along great.  We're just trying to build a good will with these villages."