24th MEU, 3rd CAG Marines visit Jurf as Sakhr

15 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

Following the gentler half of the 1st Marine Division’s motto, “no better friend, no worse enemy,” Marines from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit went to the town of Jurf as Sakhr, Iraq, Aug. 15 to check on a dormant civil affairs project and make contact with people in the community.

The Army had begun building a birthing center at the local medical clinic but suspended it due to security concerns.  The Marines, who began operating in the area late last month, went to see about getting the project finished. They also took a look at the town’s destroyed police station and the city council building, stopping along the way to talk to shop owners and assess the overall environment in the town.

Initial construction at the clinic was stopped because convoys heading to the town were repeatedly hit with improvised explosive devices or small-arms fire.

“This was the first time my team had been to that town in awhile and the first time the battalion has been there,” said Maj. Thomas West, 37, an Anaheim Hills, Calif., native and team leader, Team Four, 3rd Civil Affairs Group. “You could tell that most of the people were not happy to see us there, but want our help.”

West said he spoke to the manager of the clinic and offered to assist him in getting the birthing center finished, and then asked for his help as a community leader to get the word out to stop attacking the American and coalition forces.

“We basically told him, if they support the enemy they will get nothing but death and destruction. If they support us, we will work hard to improve their standard of living,” said West

After visiting the medical clinic, West and Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, headed downtown and scouted out the city council building believed to be defaced with anti-American graffiti.

Using an interpreter, West took note of the graffiti and snapped pictures of it before moving farther into town.

“The graffiti said ‘death to Americans,’ ‘Jihad,’ and ‘death to betrayers,’” said West. “That is something you don’t want to see on city council buildings.”

After walking down the town’s main street and stopping to talk to local shop owners, West and the BLT Marines turned around and headed back.

“The trip went pretty much as expected. We had no contact and no IEDs,” said West. “About 80 percent of the convoys out here are hit by IEDs or mortars, so no contact was good.”

West said they were just trying to get the message out to build support for the new Iraqi government. Other towns in the area are cooperating and getting help through civil affairs projects. The lack of cooperation from the residents of Jurf as Sakhr has hindered help from coalition forces in the area, but the Marines hold out hope that the reluctant Iraqis will seize the moment.

“You can free people,” said West. “But you can’t give them freedom. That is something they must grasp for themselves.”