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Troops assist with Iraqi-led aid mission

By Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger , United States Division-Center

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Nov. 3, 2010 — 101103_kids

U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Wilhite, an infantryman with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division – Center, and a Tupelo, Miss., native, jokes with Iraqi children during a medical engagement hosted by the Iraqi Army with the support of his unit at the North Halabsah School northwest of Baghdad, Oct. 10, 2010. (Photo by Sgt. M. Katzenberger).

BAGHDAD (Nov. 2, 2010) —School is out for the day at the North Halabsah School northwest of the Iraqi capital. On a typical day, when let out of school, the students wander off to their homes—scattered throughout endless acres of farmland miles from city centers and marketplaces—but Oct. 10, the students instead joined their parents at the school, along with other adults from the community, to receive basic medical examinations, medicine and school supplies from Iraqi Army Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 37th Brigade, 9th IA Division.

The combined medical engagement, conducted in collaboration with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division – Center, was organized by the IA to support its continuing efforts to build trust with the Iraqi people in the North Halabsah area—people who, due to the rural location in which they live and work, have very little regular interaction with the Iraqi Security Forces.

One of four medics and two doctors to provide care to the people was Cpl. Ahmed Ayad, a medic with 2nd Bn., 37th Bde, 9th IA Div.

Ayad said participating in the humanitarian aid mission—which provided medical assistance to more than 70 men, women and children—made him feel good, and that the mission was beneficial to his unit.

“I’m trying to help the population [and] that gives them a good impression about the military, especially for the kids,” he said. “Giving them [school supplies] and medical supplies reflects [well] on the military.”

The medical engagement at the North Halabsah School was different from similar missions that had been previously conducted, in that the IA assumed full responsibility for the operation. The location was secured by the IA and the mission was facilitated solely by IA Soldiers and leaders, with the exception of the U.S. Army providing the services of a female physician assistant, Capt. Anna Chavez, and two female medics, Spc. Rebecca Nadine Slagle and Spc. Jessica Chandler, all with 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st AAB, 3rd Inf. Div.

“It’s nice when we come out and … let the Iraqis take the lead—that’s exactly what they’re doing today,” said Capt. Paul Worley, commander of Company A, 3rd Bn., 69th Armd. Regt. “We’re just providing that advisory role.”

While IA Soldiers secured the site, quickly transformed a wing of classrooms into temporary examination rooms and readied tabletops with medicine ranging from antibiotics and aspirin to hydrocortisone cream and vitamins, Soldiers with Company A found the Iraqis had things under control, so they took advantage of the opportunity to meet with the IA Soldiers and Halabsah children.

“It’s good to see that the kids are happy to have us out here and to see us helping everybody out with the medical supplies,” said Spc. John Eval, an infantryman with Company A, and a Las Vegas native. “And it’s nice to see all the adults happy to see us out here, having a good time [and] laughing … with us.”

Second Lt. Jassim Aymen, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Bn., 37th Bde., 9th IA Div., said he feels the mission was a success on many levels.

“I think [the combined medical engagement] … is very good for us and for the U.S. Army,” Aymen said. “We’re [building] a good relationship [and] friendship together and gaining … experience from one another. I want to help [the] new Iraqi Army, to support it and build it, and make it like the other armies in the world.”

Aymen said he feels a lot of empathy for fellow Iraqis, a natural sentiment he credits to his parents.

“The situation here in Iraq is very difficult, especially for the poor people [because of] what Saddam [Hussein]’s regime [did to] people,” he said. “[The regime made] them suffer for a long time. That’s why I take medicine as my profession.”

After the Iraqis left the school grounds, clutching bags full of school supplies and medicine, Worley reflected on the IA’s success and their performance during the medical engagement.

“It’s nice for us to bring the Iraqi Army out to the people and show them that they’re here to help and … that they’re here to protect them,” Worley said. “From what we can tell here from the humanitarian aid [mission] we did here previously—and [from] this one—the relationship between the people and the Iraqi Security Forces is strong; there’s trust there and the people appreciate everything that the Iraqi Army is doing for them.”