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Civil Affairs Projects maximize public support in Kosovo

13 Oct 2002 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

In a place where many local residents are poor, unemployed or without the means to receive proper medical or dental care, Marines and Sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) stepped in to provide them with services they don't normally receive.

The MEU accomplished this through four Civil Affairs projects. These projects focused on areas in the communities that needed improvement. They also provided Marines and Sailors with real-world training, as well as a better understanding for the local people and their culture.

"Civil Affairs provides the people of Kosovo with needed services they may not have, such as medical or dental services," said Maj. Ted Durant, a Civil Affairs officer, attached to the 24th MEU (SOC). "We've done two medical and dental readiness exercises in local towns where many of these people haven't seen a doctor for quite some time."

Along with the medical and dental services, the Marines assisted in bringing running water to a village that has never had it before and completed a road improvement project in which they widened a dangerous and eroded switchback.

"In addition to the medical and dental support, we have also helped improve the local infrastructure of these communities," said Durant.  "We can often use our MEU assets to complete construction projects and a lot times we don't have to spend any money. The assets are available. They just need a means to transport it, and a lot times they may just need security to get it done."

During the water pipe project, Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 and MEU Service Support Group 24's Helicopter Support Team worked together using two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to lift 48 100-meter sections of plastic pipe, while Marines from Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines provided security.

The pipe, which weighed more that 300 pounds per section, was airlifted from the village of Ljubovista to a near by spring. From there, local workers began installing the pipe, which connected the spring to the village giving them running water for the first time ever.

During the final project Marines improved a road switchback that was eroded and dangerous. MSSG-24 Marines used some of their Heavy Equipment to widen the road and installed an improved drainage system that will make the road safe for the people of Kosovo.

By doing these projects, not only do the people of the local communities get the services done. They also get a better understanding of the U.S. Marines.

"Sometimes these people have no knowledge of the Marine Corps. What they do know of the Marine Corps is often from American television. That is often an inaccurate and negative portrayal of Marines," said Durant. "This interaction allows the people to see what we are really like and what we are all about."

But the local people aren't the only ones who benefit from these projects. There are a lot of ways in which the Marines and Sailors profit from them as well.

"For one, they get to do realistic training," said Durant.  "For example, during the water project, the pilots were flying in a pretty tough environment, the HST team was under the helicopter loading the pipe and at the same time the BLT was providing security. The feedback I've gotten from those Marines was that it was some of the best training they've done. Down the road if they are faced with a less permissive environment they will have more experience and get the job done, hopefully, in a quicker and better fashion."

"In addition, Civil Affairs Projects provide the Marines with an understanding of the local population," added Durant.  "The Medical and Dental projects are real. People come with real problems. There is often a crowd and the possibility of crowd control problems. The exposure to the population is much better than what you get in a canned (training) environment."

Durant also said these projects are a great way to prepare for what former Commandant of the Marine Corps Ret. Gen. Charles Krulak called the three-block war.

"On one block you providing humanitarian aid. On the second you are dealing with a riot. And on the third you are in a full fledged fire-fight," said Durant.  "You are going to know these people better when you encounter these situations. The end result is the Marines prevail and do a better job."

One key to getting these projects completed has been the cooperation between all the agencies involved.

"The Dragas municipality has assisted us in getting a lot of these projects done. For me, it has been nothing but a positive experience," said Durant.  "From the local government to the villagers and United Nations folks, they have been helpful and friendly. They have a positive attitude and I can't say enough about them."

Another key has been the help of the other nations in Kosovo's Multi-National Brigade South Area of Operations.

"The Germans have provided the necessary assets when we have asked for them," said Durant.  "They are helpful. They are knowledgeable. The same goes for the Turks."

The final key was the support of the local people.

"The local population has been nothing but supportive," said Durant.  In Ljubovista, the people carried the pipes to a suitable landing zone from which the Marines could lift them. It was a cooperative effort by all."

The local villagers have also expressed their thanks in many ways. "I just want to say thanks to the U.S. Marines for everything they have done for my village," said Kosovo Police Service Sergeant Sefia Allum, through his translator.  "As a KPS officer I just want to let everyone know how very grateful we are."

Durant looked back at the projects and noted this was one of the most memorable times in his career.

"These past two moths have been my best experience in the Marine Corps," said Durant.  "The best thing about civil affairs missions is that it maximizes public support and minimizes public interference with the mission. That is the reason why we do it. That is the end result.

The end result of these civil affairs missions is that residents of Kosovo now have a favorable impression of Marines and that enhances Operation Dynamic Response '02.