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Marines from Regimental Combat Team 5 unload boxes of food onto an Iraqi Police vehicle Sept. 24 for distribution to economically disadvantaged families in Rutbah, a town in Iraq's western al-Anbar Province. Navy Lt. Ray Rivers, the chaplain with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, RCT-5, created "Operation Widow" in June to provide weekly food parcels to the town's neediest residents. ::r::::n:: ::r::::n::

Photo by Capt. Paul L. Greenberg

Coalition Forces Help Those Who Are Most Helpless

27 Sep 2008 | Capt. Paul Greenberg

Reserve Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, both attached to Regimental Combat Team 5, spent the day Sept. 24 delivering food supplies for economically disadvantaged families in Rutbah, a town of about 17,000 residents in western al-Anbar province.

Navy Lt. Ray Rivers, the 2nd LAR chaplain, created “Operation Widow” in June to provide both non-perishable food items and fresh fruit, milk and juice to widows and their families in Rutbah.

“This has definitely improved relations between the Coalition forces and the Iraqis,” said Rivers, a native of Sumter, S.C., who was himself a Marine Corps infantry officer for seven years before going back to school for his master’s degree in divinity in 1993.

“It has helped those who are the most helpless,” continued Rivers.  “It shows not only the generosity of the United States, but it gives the [Rutbah] City Council credibility in the people’s eyes.”

Operation Widow, with the help of the Iraqi Police who deliver the food directly to the families’ homes, has provided parcels for more than 110 families since June.  Each parcel contains enough nourishment for a family of four to eat well for several weeks.

Rivers explained that the program, in addition to providing needed aid, breaks down religious barriers between people of different faiths.  After the food is taken to the Rutbah City Council, Rivers, personally meets with the city’s imam, a key Muslim spiritual leader who has great influence on the city’s 17,000 residents. 

The two men look for common ground between the different faiths and troubleshoot any issues that arise between Coalition forces and local residents.

“The imam was key in forming this relationship,” said Rivers.  “By opening up to us and trusting us, he was key in making this program work.”

Mahmoud Ahmed Nudin Obid, the gray-bearded imam of Rutbah, expressed his deep appreciation for Coalition forces’ efforts in his city and the importance of working together to improve the lives of impoverished families.

 “According to the Koran,” said Obid, “if you help the crying of the widows, God will bless you.  We must take care of them … this is our religion.  We love everybody.  Our God orders us to open our hearts toward others.  There is no difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims.  Our goal is to live and work in peace.”

As Rivers’ seven-month tour in Iraq comes to a close, he took the opportunity Sept. 24 to introduce 2nd Bn, 25th Marines’ chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Kobena Arthur, to the city council leaders. 

The Reserve battalion arrived in Iraq earlier this month for an expected seven-month tour.  They will assume management of many infrastructure and development programs in Rutbah that were previously spearheaded by 2nd LAR Bn. as control of the region is gradually handed over to the Iraqi Security Forces.

Arthur pledged his commitment to not only continuing Operation Widow, but to help it evolve into a larger program incorporating non-governmental organizations which can sustain the pace of economic and educational development after the U.S. Forces leave the region. 

“This is not a new beginning,” stated Arthur.  “This is a continuation of the work my predecessor has done.”
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