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A friendly patrol.

As during previous forays outside the wire at Forward Operating Base Danger, in Tikrit, Iraq, Soldiers had their "game" faces on and rolled out of the gate with loaded weapons and body armor, in armored Humvees.

But this patrol had a friendly "face," because it was from the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion. Supporting the commander in his relationship with the local population is civil affairs' main mission, said battalion commander LTC Edwin Miranda.

"You want to give the impression that you're here to help," he said. "You want to build relationships."

The battalion's civil-affairs Soldiers are doing that--and more--in Task Force Liberty's area of operations.

On the recent patrol, Soldiers of the battalion's Headquarters and HQs. Company hit the streets to talk to Iraqi businessmen, assess the effects of Iraq's recent elections on business, and ask about establishing a chamber of commerce, said civil-affairs team chief SSG John Imperato.

"The goal was to get the feel of the business community, to gauge their thoughts about a chamber of commerce, and if they would participate in it," added SGT Michael Rothermel, civil-affairs team sergeant and interpreter.

Self-reliance is the ultimate goal, Miranda said.

"The Iraqis need to get back on their feet, and get back to work," he said. "They need to take a vested interest in their own affairs."

Imperato is a Bedford, N.Y., police officer and former New York Army National Guard Soldier. During the patrol, he moved from business to business, like a cop walking his beat, chatting easily, through an interpreter, to Tikrit business owners.

"I can read people well. I'm used to dealing with people on foot patrol," Imperato said, referring to his police experience. "What I'm doing here is similar. I still have to be on my guard."

Balancing security and sociability is difficult, Miranda said. "We have to find a balance between force protection and conducting civil-military operations. Civil-affairs Soldiers can protect themselves just like other Soldiers, while treating civilians with respect--something all Soldiers should do.

"The average Soldier must fully understand the rules of engagement," he said. "He must understand in a split second who the enemy is, and who the civilians are. The average Soldier should remember that, like civil affairs Soldiers, they are ambassadors. While they are expected to defend themselves, they should treat Iraqis with dignity and respect. It's not easy. In this environment, anyone can come out from the crowd and kill you."

That's why Imperato, Rothermel and an Iraqi official walked the streets surrounded by a moving perimeter of 360-degree security provided by American and Iraqi soldiers.

There was no negative feedback from the businessmen they spoke with, Imperato said.

"And we learned that they're all excited about starting a chamber of commerce," he added. "The businessmen said that if they all came together to pool their resources, they could improve the economy."

"The response was great," Rothermel said. "They're looking forward to having a chamber of commerce. One thing we're giving them, which they never had before, is a voice. Now they can discuss how they'll collaborate, and how they'll pool their resources."

The next step, Rothermel said, will be for Iraqis to pick chamber-of-commerce representatives who will communicate their issues.

"You can only meet so many needs," he said. "You want to help everyone, but you can only help some of them. You do what you can. You can't let that burden weigh you down."

Once they were approached by an Iraqi family whose home was destroyed by a mortar round, Rothermel recalled. The family was seeking shelter--something the civil-affairs Soldiers couldn't provide. What they did supply, however, was food and hygiene items from the stock they always have handy, and information on how to get in touch with an Iraqi government agency that could help.

"Sometimes we can only point people in the right direction," he said. "That helps them more than we could help them on our own."

"We're structuring a government," Imperato said. "If we can get the smaller government organizations running smoothly, and the Iraqi police and Iraqi army up to speed, things will be great."

The unit is also training an Iraqi force to take over the civil-affairs mission, Imperato said. "They do well. They go out once a week by themselves."

Based in Danbury, Conn., the 411th CA Bn. is coordinating $8 million of projects in TF Liberty's area of operations, said CPT Tammie Perreault, the battalion personnel officer. These include minor school renovations, urban clean-up by local labor, the preservation of Iraqi historic sites, and improvement of Iraqi government facilities.

HHC is supporting the 42nd Infantry Division, Miranda said, and his other companies are supporting TF Liberty's combat teams. The civil-affairs Soldiers helped coordinate elections with local officials, and the battalion's public-health team recently conducted a health assessment in Samarra and was able to provide Iraqi health professionals with new medical equipment, sanitation support and medical reference material.

"It's rewarding when you see needs and issues being resolved and taken care of," Miranda said.

Rothermel said he "absolutely loves" civil-affairs work. "Having a positive effect on people's lives here, like we do, is very rewarding."

SSG Raymond Drumsta is assigned to the 42nd Inf. Div. Public Affairs Office in Iraq.
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Author:Drumsta, Raymond
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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