FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- For the Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who arrived in full this week, the first order of business in their new desert home was to get out and meet the neighbors and let them know the Marines are here to help.
To prove that, Marines here patrolled the area around FOB Kalsu delivering water to residents who needed it and seeing what else they could do for their new neighbors.
"We were trying to search for some way to have an immediate impact, to introduce ourselves to our Iraqi Neighbors," said Maj. Thomas O. Mayberry, force fires coordinator and information operations officer for the MEU. "That's where the idea of water came up. We slapped a [water tank] full of fresh water on the back of a 7-ton truck," said the Leawood, Kan., native.
The Marines, escorted by a Light Armored Vehicle from Alpha Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, drove throughout the Marines' area of responsibility, stopping to offer residents water and to talk to them about their living conditions and how the Marines could help them.
"We essentially tried to pick places where there was at least a focused number of homes in one area," said Mayberry, a Marine of 16 years. "We would get out and introduce ourselves to the Iraqis living there and offer them water. Some would take it, others wouldn't."
One Marine believes this type of mission could improve the situation here for the Marines.
"I wish we could do this every week," said 2nd Lt. Peter Bergstrom, Motor Transport platoon commander, MEU Service Support Group-24 and Seneca Ill., native. "If we did, things would change."
Although the water was received with mixed reactions, the Marines did learn of ways they could help their neighbors. One resident mentioned an Iraqi howitzer a couple hundred yards from his home, close enough for his children to play on it. He asked the Marines to remove it and offered an insight into the needs of the local residents.
Speaking through a Marine translator, one resident declared that "all we want is water, power, and relaxation." At the offer of help from the Marines, he added, "[the Iraqi people] want us to help and then return home to our families."
According to Mayberry, the day's activities are an important part of the MEU's security and stabilization mission here.
"I think it is important to go out and meet the people you serve. We're not here just to try to combat insurgents, although that certainly is a primary task," Mayberry explained. "I think we are here to try to have a positive impact in the AOR that we have been assigned. That means getting out there and meeting the people who live there finding out how they live and their needs and how you can best fill those needs."
The Marines' short venture into the community reaped many rewards for the Marines and sailors assigned here.
"I think we got the most out of it in terms of just getting to meet people and finding out what their needs were, what their concerns were, and what they thought of Americans in general," said Mayberry. He added, "I think we just keep trying...by working with the Iraqi interim government and doing the best we can to try to improve the situation here in the area."