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Civil Affairs Marines provide aid to combat-torn Iraqi families

15 May 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

A 28-year-old Iraqi woman has told Marines and sailors in region of western Al Anbar Province that all she wants is to be able to walk again.

The woman from Karabilah, Iraq, is missing both of her legs.

But the Marines of the 3rd Civil Affairs Group – a U.S. military unit responsible for assisting Iraqi communities with rebuilding local government infrastructure, commerce and economies – are doing something about it.

They’re jumpstarting the lengthy process of finding aid for the woman, who lost both of her legs during combat operations conducted by Coalition Forces against insurgents last year in her hometown near the Iraq-Syria border.

The civil affairs group is working with Iraqi doctors at provincial-level medical facilities where resources for rehabilitation programs or further care are limited. Ultimately, the woman will need a referral to a higher level of care near the nation’s capital at Baghdad for treatment, according to CAG officials. 

Marines and sailors from the shock trauma platoon, forward resuscitative surgical suite aboard this U.S. military camp conducted a medical evaluation of the woman for an updated prognosis of her condition.

They also evaluated two Iraqi children, a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, with genetic diseases. The families sought the help of the Marines because they did not know who to turn to for help.

“Once we establish what’s wrong physically, we can engage with the Iraqi health system and government agencies to see if we can get help,” said Lt. Col. Larry L. White, the civil military operations center director for the Al Qa’im region.

While the civil affairs group in the Al Qa’im region spend most of their days assisting local towns with rebuilding local commerce and government, providing humanitarian aid is not new to the Marines, who receive requests for help from locals on a regular basis, according to the Marines here.

Though the Marines can’t always provide immediate assistance on their own, they can lead people in the right direction to get the aid they need.

“We’re out there with the people at the civil military operations center and that’s where people go for help,” said White.

The patients, whom are of no relation to each other, sought the aid of the Marines several days ago. The Marines helping the woman are currently stationed in the city of Husaybah in the Al Qa’im region of western Al Anbar Province.

“They just came into the center and asked for help,” said White, 39, who has spearheaded the project by arranging transportation for the families from Husaybah to a U.S. military camp at Al Qa’im. “This is a humanitarian gesture and we are doing what we can to help them.”

Amal communicated through an interpreter that she hoped the Marines were going to fix everything and make everything good.

“The woman is seeing that some progress is being made by coming to this place,” said the interpreter. “She is a good woman who has hope.”

Although she lost so much as a result of collateral damage from the fighting, Amal confided that the problem began with the insurgents who came to her home and threatened her family.

Though the woman said she appreciates any help Coalition Forces can provide, she lost more than just her legs last year. 

“My sister, my daughter and my mother died during the fighting,” she said. “Terrorists came to my house in Karabilah and said, ‘You’re with us or we will kill you.’”

Caught in the middle of the fighting between Americans and insurgents, Amal watched her family members die.

“She could be hateful, bitter and angry, but instead she’s reaching out to the people that hurt her,” said Navy Capt. Don Elshire, shock trauma platoon, forward resuscitative surgical suite officer-in-charge. “She has a big space in her heart for forgiveness, otherwise she wouldn’t be here today.”

The woman communicated through an interpreter that she was confident that someone from America would help her.

“I just want to be able to walk again,” said Amal. “I’ve seen the Americans help others.”

Although the process of acquiring financial and medical aid is quite a lengthy process, according to White, a St. Paul, Minn. native, the Iraqis are not discouraged as they don’t have many options to choose from in this remote corner of Iraq where medical facilities are scarce. The only options in this region of Iraq are a string of clinics where care is limited to less severe cases.

With medical facilities unable to provide a higher level of care, the families often have to travel a long distance to receive adequate care, according to White.

That’s not to say that the civil affairs Marines are not working around the clock to establish satisfactory medical facilities where Iraqis won’t have to travel to cities such as Ramadi or Fallujah for care.

For Iraqis near the Syrian border, high-level health care means a referral to a larger health facility hundreds of miles away.

“It’s time-consuming and right now the ability to make the system work is frustrating,” said White. “We are trying to build the legitimacy of their health system so they can handle these cases. We need to get the Iraqi system up to speed.”

On track to rebuilding that system, the Marines have a number of projects in the works that will address health care, such as construction of several satellite clinics by the end of the month.

A trip to a hospital in another city means hours on Iraq’s dangerous roads, and may take several days, said one of the patient’s family members through an interpreter.

“Anything we can do to help the Iraqi doctors do better, we will do,” said Elshire. “The Iraqis have the doctor’s to do the work, they just don’t have the resources.”

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil