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Marines provide for local community and themselves

16 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Local Iraqis working on the camp here are not just keeping up with the daily chores, but also earning a consistent wage that's a scarcity to most.

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, enjoy showers and electricity because of the daily work of the Iraqis on the camp through local contracts.  But Iraqis are benefiting too.  They have steady employment and competitive wage for Iraq.

"We've put $750,000 into the local community for the contracts here so far.  Because of that we have port-a-johns, showers, power, air conditioning and everything the Marines here enjoy," said 1st Lt. James A. Rivers, a 27-year-old supply officer from Chester, S.C. "The contractors provide both quality of life and survivability to the Marines here."

On any given day Marines can see large tractors and forklifts moving things around the base.  Behind the wheel is usually a local Iraqi.  Every day they are on the base improving the living conditions and maintaining things Marines already enjoy.

"We'd be living with a lot more health hazards if they weren't here," Rivers said.

Working with the Iraqis does present challenges to the Marines here.  Besides the obvious language barrier, there is also a different cultural mindset about work.

"It's hard to get them to come to work from eight in the morning until five at night.  They like to come in at nine and work until three," said Sgt. Chris R. Bentley, a 23-year-old logistics embarkation specialist from Tyler, Texas. "Once we get past the problems with language and work ethic it's easy to develop friendships with the guys we see every day."

Bentley went on to say that many Iraqis will gladly work extra hours or do work that has nothing to do with their contract because of the friendships made.  In exchange for the work the Marines are sure to repay the laborers.

"If we need something done right away and it takes them all night to do it then we give them a day off or some extra pay," Bentley said.  "But most of the time when they go above and beyond for us we do things like make sure their pay is on time and correct and treat them as well as we can."

Bentley also credited the Iraqis for learning new skills.  Job training or vocational schools are nonexistent here, so any specialty skill requires Marines to demonstrate and supervise.

"Back in the states, our heavy equipment operators have licenses and certifications," Bentley said.  "They don't have anything like that here, so we have to manage them to make sure the work gets done to the quality we expect."

The work is welcome among the Iraqis, however.  The pay in U.S. dollars is the same that someone in the United States would make for the same job.  This fuels the people to work and boosts the economy.

"We had this guy named Joseph who did regular work for us.  When he first came to work here he was dressed pretty shabby.  You could tell he was poor," Bentley said.  "After a while he started showing up with dentures to replace his teeth, newer clothes; you could tell he was doing a lot better because of what we were paying him."

Local contractors are happy to help the Marines as well.  In addition to providing for their families, many also feel they are doing their part to rebuild their country's economy.

"I think the Coalition Forces are the best for changing the system.  All my workers enjoy having their jobs and providing for their families," said one contract foreman, on the condition of anonymity.  "Security is sometimes an issue but we take many precautions.  We're just happy to be helping to rebuild."