Currency News

Marines' mission: help Iraq rebuild

BYERS - They've shelved their civilian clothes and civilian jobs for Marine uniforms and will spend much of the coming year helping to rebuild Iraq.

Sixty-three Marines and two Navy hospital corpsmen with the Marines' Air Control Squadron 23 at Buckley Air Force Base, made up mostly of reservists, received activation orders Tuesday that will include deployment to Iraq's embattled Al Anbar Province later this year.

There is a twist, though. These Marines will not deploy in their trained specialty, controlling aircraft operations in a combat zone.

Instead, they will be sent to Virginia next month and trained as "civil affairs" specialists. They will deploy to Iraq late this summer to help rebuild infrastructure such as water and electrical systems.

Reconstruction has been ongoing to "win hearts and minds" of Iraqis. Since the U.S. offensive in 2003, Army and Marine civil affairs units have been active throughout the country.

Fort Carson's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment conducted civil affairs operations in Al Anbar Province in 2003-04.

At the time, Army Maj. John Crean recalled, the country had been so ravaged by war and Saddam Hussein's neglect that some local governments were virtually nonexistent.

The Army established new village councils and courts and helped the Iraqis write legal codes and begin rebuilding infrastructure.

Now, the Marines will carry on with projects aimed at strengthening communities.

There was no lack of enthusiasm for their upcoming task, as the Marines conducted mandatory marksmanship qualification on the rifle range in Byers Thursday.

"My first tour was exclusively with the Marines. I had no interaction with the Iraqis," said Gunnery Sgt. Matt Knight, a physical education teacher at Manual High School who first deployed in 2004.

"This is the mission I wanted to do. As a schoolteacher I wanted to get out . . . and have contact with the people," he said.

Once in Iraq, the Buckley detachment will augment larger civil affairs units, but they have no idea of their specific assignments.

Lance Cpl. Jose Sanchez, of Colorado Springs, an electronic data systems specialist in civilian life, is prepared to do other tasks in Iraq.

"If it involves working to rebuild a school or a house, then that's what I'll do," he said.

The unit brings diverse talents from the civilian world, said Maj. William Mitchell, who also will deploy.

Lawyers, teachers, police officers and firefighters, computer technicians, students and even a cattle rancher provide an array of expertise.

Some, like Knight, have deployed at least once. Others have not. The squadron is training for the danger they will face.

Al Anbar Province includes some of the worst trouble spots in Iraq - Fallujah, Ramadi, Haditha and the Syrian border.

Basic doctrine that "every Marine is a rifleman first," means the unit must qualify on the firing range. For the next month it will increase physical and first-aid training and other essentials.

Their training is in the hands of career Marine infantrymen, including Gunnery Sgt. Dan Picard, a 24-year veteran who will deploy as the unit's senior noncommissioned officer.

"I tell them to 'cover your six' (Marine parlance for watch your back)," said Picard. "The big thing is to take care of each other."

He is optimistic.

"I've already heard from civil affairs guys who have come back," he said. "They're making a lot of headway."



or 719-633-4442

Back to Top