COP RAWAH, Iraq --
One of the undertakings of the Civil Affairs Team is to make heard the voice of the once silenced masses. The feedback they get from the Iraqi people is invaluable towards them finding out what the greater needs of the people are.
A challenge they have faced is the gender separation that is traditional in the Islamic culture.
“Fifty percent of the population we can’t talk with because we are men,” said Major Hunter R. Rawlings, the operations officer, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, who is from Boulder, Colo.
The Military In Transition Teams and the Civil Affairs Groups have held several events where they handed out supplies in a public place, but few women showed up because their culture forbids them to have close contact with men.
To help take care of the local women, Civil Affairs Team 5 has a blend of female interpreters and Marines that are able to engage the Iraqi women.
“We are giving the other half of the population a voice to be heard, not only by us, but by their provincial government,” said Staff Sgt. Tiffany C. Grovdahl, 29, from Spokane Wash., who is a project manager for CAT 5. “Our main focus has been on the widows of the area,” said Grovdahl.
In the western Al Anbar province, many of the women have been left widowed and with many children.
CAT 5 met with a few of the widows of Rawah to talk with them and find out what they needed and make sure the government was giving them their pensions.
“They are ecstatic to see us because they are able to sit down and talk with other females about their problems and discuss what they need.” said Grovdahl.
After talking, CAT 5 handed out shoes, bags of food and other supplies the widows needed to take care of their families.
The biggest challenge CAT 5 has faced is assuring the men that they were not trying to change their women.
“We had to get across that we were genuinely tying to help them so they could learn to help themselves,” said Grovdahl
Meetings are scheduled so that the local women can discuss problems they are having and to learn about different services provided for them.
“We donated ten sewing machines for them to take classes on sewing,” said Army Sgt Jennifer M. Neuhart, 24, from St. Louis, who is a psychological operations officer with CAT 5.
Grovdahl and her team have also arranged nursing classes and doctor visits for the widows and their children.
The women here are interested in learning skills so they can help provide for their families, but they lack training and the place to be trained, said Grovdahl.
“While we were talking with the women one of them told us ‘you are our hope,’” said Neuhart.