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NEWS | April 15, 2008

Microgrants transform lives of Iraqis

By None , 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FOB KALSU, Iraq (April 15, 2008) – Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, are distributing microgrants to help fledgling businesses west of the Tigris River and south of Baghdad.

With the assistance of Soldiers from Company C, 415th Civil Affairs Battalion and members of the Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, 2nd BCT Soldiers have given Iraqis much-needed financial aid.

“With the microgrants what we try to do is re-establish a business which has fallen on hard times, either due to the al-Qaida insurgency or other reasons,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Michael Patrick Howell, a combat medic with 415th CA.

After removing al-Qaida from a majority of their area of responsibility, beginning with their arrival in June 2007, 2nd BCT Soldiers opened a dialogue with residents of the communities they now operate in.

Coalition forces began projects focusing on rebuilding infrastructure and boosting the local farming economies.

Now, many areas south of Baghdad have a steady supply of electricity, schools are re-opening, water purification and farm irrigation systems are being restored and GoI officials have opened up a dialogue with leaders from the communities .

While much infrastructure has been repaired, Soldiers here still recognize a need for the average entrepreneur to have the tools he or she needs to be successful.

Howell, who is responsible for consolidating information from microgrant applicants, said the extra money injected into the rural farming communities south of Baghdad has the potential to boost local economies.

He said, throughout the 2nd BCT’s operational environment, microgrants are being considered for businesses like fish and bee farms, convenience stores and various other agricultural-related businesses.

While the business owners do receive free money from coalition forces, Howell says there is no free ride.

“A lot of these … we have to scrutinize to make sure that they did have a prior business and they’re not using the money for something else,” said Howell, a native of Louisville, Ky.

To keep track of businesses and their endeavors, Howell says units at patrol bases conduct assessments and give him and the civil affairs team progress reports.

Capt. Gregory E. Curry, commander of Troop A, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th BCT, 3rd Inf. Div., and his Soldiers have been working with community leaders in Hawr Rajab to restore peace and establish stability since their arrival in November.

He says the more successful businesses are ones which produce items needed by the community.

“However, I think that any business is successful when they use the money given to them wisely and can put it back into the business …to make a profit,” said Curry, from Walnut Creek, Ohio.

Curry said even he and his fellow Soldiers shop at the business outside their patrol base, PB Stone.

“The way we see it, if others see us buying items from the stores then it will help their business,” he said. “It is getting better and you see more and more people on the streets trying to make a living the right way.”

Leaders of the 2nd BCT have plans to distribute more than 150 additional grants in the area.