HASHAM, Iraq -- After establishing peace in their sector of operations, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) has begun shifting its focus of operations from combat to peace support operations and humanitarian assistance.
To initiate the process, Marines from the 24th MEU went to the local village of Hasham, which translates into "First of June," and helped the residents clean up and make minor repairs to the school there.
"In operations like this one, we are helping the local people try and get back to a normal life," said Gunnery Sgt. Wayne M. Osbourne, team staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 4th Civil Affairs Group from Washington D.C. "This school here was in a fire zone and was pretty badly damaged. We came in and helped them clean it up so the children can get back in school."
"We basically came in here with what we can offer them now," said Capt. Eric Post, Engineer Officer, MSSG-24. "It was not a lot, so we conducted a general cleanup, fixed some door frames, removed some of the broken glass and straightened up the classrooms."
The Marines also brought 400 gallons of water from the MEU's Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit site in a water bull and placed it in the center of town for the local women to come and draw clean water.
As the project began, it was only the Marines doing the work, but after about an hour, many of the men and boys from the village came in to lend a helping hand. Together they finished the project in a little over three hours.
"By having the men and children come in here, we are teaching the people to help themselves," said Post. "That way, after we leave they will still be able to take care of the school."
As the project wound down the atmosphere was very jovial. Several of the children and Marines began to pose together for pictures.
"I think we had a very positive reception here," said Post. "We came in yesterday with the Civil Affairs Marines and spoke to some of the village elders about their concerns. "They were asking for things like medical care and security at night, but by working on the school I hope it will tide them over until further peacekeeping operations begin. I think they realized we are here to help them, not harm them.
"I think being here today is a good thing," said Cpl. Daniel Stevens, Operations Section, MSSG-24. "It shows the other side of the Marine Corps. Yes we are a lethal fighting force, but we are also here to help. It is sort of like a double edged sword."
Along with cleaning up the school, the 24th MEU has other projects planned for more villages in the area.
"I was pretty shocked at how receptive the MEU is about Civil Affairs," said Osbourne. The (Commanding Officer) is very willing to provide materials, vehicles and security teams. They just want to do as much as they can with what they have.