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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Civil Affairs Help Make a Difference for Iraqis

By Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback,
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

LSA ANACONDA, Iraq – Rifles, pistols and tanks are a few tools of war. Active listening, patience and cooperation are a few of the tools used by Capt. Glen A. Stambone, a civil affairs officer with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, starting at 8:30 a.m., the Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) lets the people’s voices be heard.

Most of those voices are speaking Arabic. In order to provide good customer service, the civil affairs office here uses two interpreters. Stambone said one is more of a “street smart” interpreter, the other is used for legal document translations.

“Tex” is the street smart guy. He’s called Tex to protect his identity.

Stambone said everything the civil affairs unit handles at the CMOC falls into two categories: claims and all other issues.

Under the claims category people can seek resolution for property damage, wrongful death, confiscated property and similar issues. If the responsible unit is under the command and control of the 13th SC (E), civil affairs will process it. If the unit does not belong to the 13th SC (E), civil affairs will collect information and turn it over to the appropriate unit.

In the other category, the civil affairs unit here has helped people get jobs, disclose intelligence to the proper authorities, seek medical attention, gain access to the on-post Iraqi bazaar and has facilitated construction contracts in the local area.

“There was a 5-year-old little boy, brought in by his dad, who was shot twice by terrorists,” said Stambone. “He had surgery in an Iraqi hospital before coming here. He wasn’t doing well and we got him into the Air Force Hospital here. The boy had a number of appointments here. His dad kissed me on both cheeks after each appointment.”

Though Stambone was able to get medical attention for that little boy, it was more of an exception than it was the rule.

“We’re not able to help everyone all the time. A lot of times, it’s the first impression they get of us (Americans),” Stambone said noting the importance of trying to make a good impression on the Iraqi people even when he’s unable to provide assistance.

“We’ll go out and investigate issues, see what people we can help. It’s a good impression we’re leaving and that goes a long way. We’re trying to establish a relationship with the local nationals and set up some kind of good rapport,” said Stambone.

Working with Iraqi people is all about customer service, said Stambone. “Just show that you care. You don’t want it to be like when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the ‘what do you want’ attitude. We want people to walk away with that good customer service feeling.”

As much as he tries to give good customer service and be courteous to people, there are occasions Stambone’s methods simply won’t conclude the meeting, explained Tex.

“It’s a different community between the U.S. and here,” said ‘Tex.’ “I often have to explain to people that just because he’s a captain doesn’t mean he has all the power.

“These are simple people. They believe a captain can control all things. For what I do, it’s all about explanation… Otherwise I tell them what the captain is saying over and over again and it goes in circles.”

Running the CMOC is approximately 70 percent of the civil affairs mission here, said Stambone. The civil affairs unit has built a database to track all visitors and their claims since their arrival here in September. Since then, they’ve processed more than 760 claims.

Photo - U.S. Army Capt. Glen A. Stambone (right), a civil affairs officer with 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) listens to a request from an Iraqi citizen through “Tex,” a translator for the unit. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte.

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