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Marines treat Iraqi farmer to bovine therapy

2 Jun 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines here took an udderly different approach to helping Iraqis.

Marines and sailors came up with a new and unique solution to helping one Iraqi man.  And she’s a looker. 

She’s got big, brown eyes and an unmistakable sway when she walks.  She’s a bit young, but to those who know what to look for, she’s got just what an Iraqi farmer wants.

To be honest, she’s sort of a cow.  Not so, say Marines and sailors with 1st Marine Division’s Government Support Team.  She’s a special cow - the milking kind.

The division’s GST section bought a cow, with the help of Spirit of America, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles.  The lucky farmer… well, he’s roaming greener pastures.

“We were meeting with the governor when he commented about this poor farmer’s cow being killed,” explained Lt. Col. Alan G. Burghard Sr., the GST commander.  “The farmer had medical ailments that required him to eat dairy products and there was no way to find a way to honor the claim.”

It all started when Marines and enemy forces were shooting it out on a farm near Ramadi a few weeks ago.  The farmer’s cow was caught in the crossfire and well… bought the farm.  It’s a sad story that’s even sadder because the farmer literally relied on the cow for his health.

But buying a cow wasn’t as easy as it sounded.  Specifically, there were rules and regulations against directly buying goods and well… cows.  Marines could hand the farmer a check, but a check wasn’t going to put milk in his glass and cheese on his table.

So Burghard approached Jim Hake, the director for Spirit of America to see if he could help.  Spirit of America already assisted Marines in Iraq by donating millions of dollars in school, medical and dental supplies.  Livestock, though, was something different.

“I related the story to Jim and I got a one-sentence response,” explained Burghard, a 45-year-old from Parsinippay, N.J.  “He said, ‘Buy the cow.’”

Buying a cow in Iraq, though, isn’t like heading down to the local livestock show or 4-H Club.  Burghard asked the local Iraqi governor to help him locate a cow that was relatively young and already producing milk.

Still, he admitted he didn’t know the first thing about buying the right cow.

“All I know about a cow is hay goes in one end and milk comes out the other,” he said.

That’s where Navy Chief Petty Officer Ron E. Heinen stepped in.  He’s a hospital corpsman and emergency medical technician and knew a thing or two about cows.  Being from Dayton, Texas and raising a few cows of his own made him, well… the udder expert.

“I wanted to check it for age,” explained 58-year-old Heinen.  “You do that by checking the teeth.”

Doing that, though, requires a handful of bovine snot.  The trick, he explained, is to get the cow by the nose - one finger in one nostril and a thumb in the other - and squeeze.

“When you do that, they pretty much just freeze,” Heinen said. 

What Heinen saw was a bottom set of pearly whites and a top row just starting to come in.  It indicated the cow was about three years old.  A check over the rest of the animal showed him she was in good shape.

“She was a healthy cow,” he said.  “She had good udders.  It looked like a good deal.”

Burghard said he had to trust Heinen’s word.  Looking at the cow, he thought he was getting a couple extra parts thrown in for free.

“I forgot dairy cows had horns,” he said.  “I saw it at first and thought there was something wrong with this picture.”

Heinen said the price was right too.  Heinen said he bought a similar cow not too long ago and paid $750.  Marines got the cow for the rock-bottom price of $520.

Burghard explained that the cow will not only be able to provide the dairy products the Iraqi farmer needs, but excess can be traded for other goods.  Plus, the cow is healthy to breed and has the potential to provide a long line of dairy cows for the farmer’s family.

“What we’re doing isn’t just building bridges,” Burghard added.  “It’s building bridges between people.  Creative solutions are being found by units.”

For Heinen’s part, he’d gladly do the dirty work of inspecting livestock again.

“When I looked at the cow’s teeth, the Iraqis kind of relaxed,” he explained. “It was like, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing.’  I actually saw this guy jump in the air as we walked away.”