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Pacesetters offer microgrants, security while patrolling streets of Sha’ab

By Zach Mott Sgt., 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div.

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Aug. 25, 2008  —
An Iraqi shop owner talks to Sgt. 1st Class Jason Maynard, a Mitchell, S.D. native, about moving barriers he said were hurting business traffic for his shop in the Sha'ab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, Aug. 24, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Zachary Mott)
An Iraqi shop owner talks to Sgt. 1st Class Jason Maynard, a Mitchell, S.D. native, about moving barriers he said were hurting business traffic for his shop in the Sha'ab neighborhood of northern Baghdad, Aug. 24, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Zachary Mott)
BAGHDAD, Iraq (August 26, 2008) – He sees a lot of potential in northern Baghdad. During a routine patrol around the area, he points to several areas that need improvements – a park here, a new store sign there; even Sons of Iraq (Abna al-Iraq) checkpoints are on his radar for upgrading.

“(We’re) showing the people that we care about them, and we care about the future and trying to put money into the environment – treating them with dignity and respect – trying to get them out of their homes into a safe, secure environment so they feel comfortable with us,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Maynard, a native of Mitchell, S.D. “Once we do that, they can start living normal lives.”

As the patrol drove around the Sha’ab neighborhood that surrounds Forward Operating Base Callahan, Maynard pointed to the areas that he sees room for improvement as well as those that have improved in his three weeks here.

In the eight months prior to arriving at FOB Callahan, Maynard and the other members of the Pacesetters, a unit of the 4th Infantry Division stationed in Iraq, were responsible for entry control points in Baghdad’s International Zone.

After an abbreviated relief-in-place of the counter improvised-rocket assisted mortar patrol mission from the Scout/Sniper Platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., Maynard and his Soldiers hit the ground running – and with microgrant applications in hand.

In slightly more than three weeks, Maynard has processed nearly 30 applications, which he hopes will help to revitalize the small businesses off the heavily traveled roads here. Four previously submitted grants have been approved in that time, and shop owners were quick to put that money to use.

“They’ve already put up signs, got generators to help equip themselves; they’ve already hired local people to help them run their shops,” said Maynard, who serves as a platoon sergeant with Battery A, 3rd Bn., 29th FA Regt. “That’s been the biggest improvement so far.”

In addition to microgrant applications, the Soldiers usually come armed with school supplies, stuffed animals, soccer balls and anything else that might serve useful to the residents.

“There’s lots of interaction (here). There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have kids swarming us,” said Sgt. James Cook, a Wakefield, Kan., native, who serves in Battery A, 3rd Bn., 29th FA Regt.

Cook credits the warm reception to the efforts the Scout/Sniper Platoon made in building a rapport with the people here.

“The unit we replaced, they did a good job. They interacted just as well. They’re used to having us around even before we got here. They’re extremely friendly,” he said.

Another factor in the quick assimilation was the Soldier’s ability to speak Arabic – a skill adopted during 12-hour shifts alongside the Iraqi army and interacting with government officials.

“We didn’t have an interpreter for about a week and a half, so that ability to speak a minimal amount of the language really helped us. We still conducted microgrants without being able to speak the language. It’s been an incredible help,” Maynard said.

Since that time, an interpreter now accompanies the patrol to speak with shop owners as well as SOI members operating checkpoints.

“We all love the mission here,” Cook said.