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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Artillery battalion trades steel rain for hearts and minds

20 June 2007
Story and photo by Cpl. Rick Nelson
2nd Marine Division
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HADITHAH — The counter-insurgency coalition forces are conducting in Iraq calls for numerous military units to give up their traditional roles and pick up a different weapon. This is nothing new for artillery units, who, since the Battle of Fallujah in November of 2004, have often been called upon to put away their howitzers for rifles, police batons, and claims cards. All around Iraq, artillery batteries and battalions are serving as provisional rifle, military police, and civil military units. In Hadithah, it’s no different.

At the Hadithah Civil Military Operation Center, Marines assigned to 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, an artillery battalion based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. assist the local populace with their civil matters.

“This was a big change from our usual duties as a field artillery battalion,” said Cpl. Russell Mullis, Civil Affairs Group, Team 1, Detachment 1, 5/10. “Steel rain and hearts and minds are two entirely different missions, but we’re adapting very well.”

Until this year, CAG detachments were primarily staffed by reservists. This is the first year an artillery unit has civil affairs as their primary mission.

“We serve as a liaison between the local populace, and the coalition forces,” said Mullis. “We handle any claims and concerns from the populace, and process projects to rebuild the area.”

Civil Affairs Group, Team 1, Detachment 1, 5/10 is a part of Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment who fall under Regimental Combat Team 2. These Marines operate the CMOC, and patrol in Hadithah to conduct assessments and coordinate with local contractors.

“The Marines run two different missions, CMOC and civil affairs,” said Warrant Officer Harold Kiser, Officer-In-Charge, CAG, Team 1, Detachment 1, 5/10. “Our areas of concern and focus form the acronym SWEATS – schools, water, electricity, agriculture, transportation and sewage.”

The center conducts many daily tasks for the local nationals, a lot of which includes vehicle registration and badge distribution. CAG also compensates the locals for any damages inadvertently caused by military personnel during counter-insurgency operations.

“The sheer number of people who come through everyday is our biggest challenge,” added Mullis, a Winston-Salem, N.C.

On average, the CMOC will assist approximately 150 people a day. The largest number of local nationals serviced in one day was 220. CAG compensates for this number by issuing the local national a specific number after he or she has been searched at the entrance. This number puts them in a line to air their grievances and receive help. The Civil Affairs Team uses interpreters to overcome the language barrier.

“Our main problem here is a shortage of interpreters, but the ones we do have do a great job,” Mullis added.

Once a number is selected, an interpreter will speak with that person and determine how they can be helped. After speaking with the interpreter, the Marines will cater to the local national’s problem based on the situation.

Mullis recalled one such incident that occurred at the CMOC.

“A local national was driving his dump truck through a [traffic control point] in Haqlaniyah and misunderstood the Marines working there, and he went the wrong way,” said Mullis. “The way he went had road spikes, and he ended up destroying two of his tires.”

The driver was issued a claims card. When he arrived at the CMOC, he was given 381,500 dinar ($299.92 in American money).

“We searched through vendors to see what an average price was on the tires, which is how we came up with the amount,” he added. “That’s the usual way we complete our claims, and it seems to be working.”

This CMOC is another facet to this complex environment, and it’s something the CAG Marines know is vital to mission success.

“The CMOC provides a place for local nationals to interact with coalition forces, and without it, I think there would be a lot more friction with the people,” said Mullis.

Marines assigned to the CAG detachment continue to help the locals here and support the Lava Dogs of 1/3 in order to aid their counter-insurgency campaign.

Photo - Cpl. Russel Mullis, a Marine with the CAG detachment assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, hands out paperwork to the local nationals at the Civil Military Operations Center in Hadithah.

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