Featured News

Marines, soldiers break ground on new community health clinic in Iraq

12 Jun 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

What is now an empty dirt lot in the middle of a maze of brick and concrete homes will soon be the key to a small Iraqi community's promise of health care.

Marines from 1st Marine Division, along with soldiers from the Army's 1st Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment broke ground on a new medical clinic in the Abu Fleis district of Khalidiyah, a city wedged between Fallujah and Ar Ramadi.

Marines and soldiers working in the area found out through meeting with local leaders that "the area was underserved as far as medical capabilities," explained Navy Capt. John M. Williams Sr., a public health officer for the 1st Marine Division.  "The people needed a clinic now, so this was more of a cooperative effort between us and the locals."

Williams said that medical clinics in Iraq are normally built and administered by the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, Iraq's capital.  The need was so great in Khalidiyah, though, that doctors, local leaders and a sheik came together with Marines and soldiers to remedy the problem.

The local district manager, Thaer Hulu Hamdala coordinated the effort and Sheik Khalil Hardan Suleiman donated the plot of land where the clinic will be built.  Iraqi Dr. Rami Barko Aeyoos already volunteered to work at the clinic.

"It's a novel approach to building a clinic," Williams added.  "It's going to get up and operating much faster.  The hope is, that in a year, the Ministry of Health will pick it up."

The project is slated to cost $39,800 for construction and another $7,500 in furnishings.  It is estimated the project will be complete Aug. 24.  When it's completed, the clinic will serve nearly 4,000 Iraqis from about 700 different families.

Army Lt. Col. Jeff Swisher, commander of the Army's 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, said the clinic groundbreaking was a step forward in improving life. 

"This is part of a continuing partnership," Swisher said.  "We've already put money into other health clinics and schools.  This is another example of local communities identified their needs."

Suleiman said the clinic will be a leap forward in the local community's ability to care for themselves.  The area is traditionally underserved in municipal projects and only recently, with Coalition help, improvements were made.

"Health is always a concern," the sheik said.  "After that, then we can think about wealth.  Through this, they can build good relations as much as they serve the people."

The shortage of health care in the Abu Fleis region of Khalidiyah was apparent.  Iraqis draw water straight from the Euphrates River.  They have sporadic electricity and most health clinics in the area have no way of storing vaccines and antibiotics that need to be refrigerated. 

"Simple things like X-ray machines are needed here," Williams said.  "If someone has a broken arm, they have to travel to Ramadi, which is a half a day's travel."

To start relieving the problem, Marines and soldiers delivered medical stocks to other nearby clinics, including gauze and even medicine to treat diabetes.  More efforts are being made to keep the shelves full.

"We're trying to assist with direct donations of medical supplies," Williams said.  "We anticipate in the next four-to-six weeks we'll see a direct shipment of donated medical supplies we can surge to these clinics."

The idea of Iraqis from Khalidiyah working with Coalition Forces is a positive step, forward, Williams said.  The region is known for not being friendly toward soldiers and Marines patrolling the area

"The clinic sends a positive message that the Coalition does care," Williams said.  "Out of all the clinics, I've got the best feeling that this one will succeed.  This is truly a community effort."