CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- Regimental Combat Team 7's Civil Affairs Group Detachment and its four tactical teams have helped provide the Al Anbar region with the tools and funds to successfully begin the reconstruction of its cities and towns.
The nearly 35 Marines have helped the region in building a security force strong enough to protect its other reconstruction efforts and have provided over $10 million in humanitarian aide.
"CAG has been around since the eighties," said Sgt. Charles H. Godsey, a 29-year-old from Victorville, Calif. "But it wasn't used until the first OIF. Only a few of us were deployed then, so it's been a learning process for all of us."
Godsey took a six-day course specializing in conducting civil affairs. Only a few of the 35 Marines serving with the CAG units attended the course.
"What they taught us was what they learned during the first war," Godsey explained.
Still, the lessons learned during the push to Baghdad and subsequent security and stabilization operations differ from what Marines are experiencing this time around. That also meant those carrying out the civil affairs mission were forced create their own opportunities.
"This time around it's been much different," Godsey added.
The Marines learned quick, helping to fund and oversee 535 different projects to date, according to CWO 4 Gary W. Davis, the 50-year-old from Filer Idaho serving with the CAG detachment.
"The projects have ranged from $300 to $300,000," Davis said. "We've focused primarily on the security forces, because without them the other projects are no good."
In many areas throughout the regiment's area of operation, such as Al Qaim, local leaders are able to request projects with the Marines.
"We receive the funds from Division," Davis explained. "We then distribute the money to the tactical teams to help fund the different projects."
What makes the civil affairs teams even more unique is this isn't the role for which they joined the Corps. They have backgrounds in all other military occupational specialties, but learned civil affairs. Most are from the Marine Reserves.
"There is no need for a CAG unit during peace time," Davis said. "We work with the reconstruction of a country and the civilians. That is why most of us are reservists."
The projects and programs have been successful helping in a variety of ways, according to the regiment's officer-in-charge of the civil affairs efforts, Lt. Col. Brian J. Tucker, a 43-year-old from Oceanside, Calif. But, it is only a steppingstone for Iraqis to take up improvement projects themselves.
"There has been improvement," said Sgt. Matthew J. Lazarski, 26, from Cedar Grove, N.J. "We can see some of the changes. Before the Iraqi Police wouldn't stand post, now they do, little things we notice when we go out."
Equipping the local security forces, manning and training them have been big reasons why the local projects and country are headed in the right direction.
"Ten million dollars can't rebuild their country," Tucker aid. "But we're showing them that it can be done. They now have security forces that are willing to stand and fight."
Since the turnover of sovereignty June 28, civil affairs teams here became even busier, according to Davis. The number of projects and pressure to have them succeed has grown.
"This is a very busy place," said Maj. Charles R. Henderson, a 38-year-old from Houston serving as RCT-7's Iraqi National Guard coordinator. "We do everything from help little kids to help oversee the country's security forces. It's working though."
The success, oddly, bred targets for terrorists. Anti-Iraqi fighters actively seek out to destroy good works set in motion by Marines. That includes the more professional Iraqi police patrolling the streets now.
"The security forces have been targets recently, because the insurgents realize they're a threat now," Henderson said. "They don't run away. They will stand and fight even though they're often out-gunned."
Though many didn't know what to expect coming to Iraq, most agree the experience has been worth it.
"I never thought in a million years I'd be helping with rebuilding a country," Godsey said. "This is much different then artillery. It's nice knowing what we do helps."