FORWARD OPERATING BASE ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq -- Armed with M-16 rifles, M-9 pistols and the best of intentions, civil affairs Marines attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit set out recently to improve the quality of life in south-central Iraq.
The leathernecks from Detachment Four, 4th Civil Affairs Group, met with local officials and visited sites all over northern Babil province as they followed up on working projects and discussed ideas for new ones.
While hopping from place to place throughout the province is a common practice for the CAG Marines, this time was different as they brought with them a civil engineer to help assess the progress of their ongoing projects. He also shared his expertise and offered ideas for new projects in the area.
A school, never before visited by CAG Marines, was the first stop of the day. With Civil Affairs sponsoring many schools all over the province, the Marines offered their assistance and asked the school's headmaster if there was anything he needed for his students or classrooms.
The headmaster responded to the Marines with enthusiasm and asked for school supplies for his students. The civil engineer also suggested paving the road leading to the school. The road currently is a rough and bumpy dirt trail, difficult for vehicles to negotiate.
"We felt paving the road to the school would be a nice gesture to families of the students," said Capt. Alexander B. Wright, Detachment Four team leader and a Baltimore native.
From the school the Marines moved on to the town of Iskandariyah. There they visited the local City Council building, which was destroyed days earlier by a group of enemy insurgents who ambushed the building and blew it up.
During the stop, the CAG documented the destruction of the building and conferred with the engineer about the possibility of repairing it. The engineer determined that the building was a loss and would have to be built from the ground up.
While the building's destruction was a setback, Wright said it has had no effect on the city council's desire to work with coalition forces.
"The (destruction) has not hurt our relationship, and the council continues to be strong and is working to serve the people of Iskandariyah," said Wright.
Another key to maintaining security and stability in the area is the Iraqi police. With many of the local buildings in poor condition, the CAG Marines stopped at the Iskandariyah police station to see what repairs could be made to the building to keep the station in full working order. They also met with local policemen to discuss some of their needs and concerns.
"Security concerns are still the largest concerns that we have here," said Wright.
The CAG had been impressed with improvements in the attitudes and abilities of the Iraqi police in the months the Marines had been working with them. Still the Marines suggested the police should spend more time patrolling the local towns. They also pledged to look into getting the policemen more raid and driver training.
These courses have been arranged to help local officials become more effective in arresting and detaining criminals.
"It's crucial for them to be able to police their own to gain trust with their own people," said Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Fritz, Detachment Four team chief and an Alexandria, Va., native.
Besides doing their part to assist the local education system and the local police forces, the CAG Marines have also been trying to instill a sense of initiative in a people long repressed.
By challenging the religious leaders and the heads of the Iraqi police to rapidly improve the quality of life in the local towns, the Marines hope to develop that spirit of enterprise essential to the growth of the nation.
"Overall it's been slow going," said Fritz. "Trying to develop leadership in a country where they've been punished for (trying to help) is hard to do."
The five Marines of CAG Detachment Four continue to be a force in the public, seeing to the needs of the surrounding areas and doing all they can to ensure a brighter future for Iraq.
The Marines understand their efforts help in two, mutually supporting ways.
"As we gain their trust and confidence, we make more friends, and less people who want to shoot at us," said Wright.