Staff Sgt. Cole Abernethy and Maj. Peter Colt play with Iraqi children in Gaydah village, in Kirkuk province, northeastern Iraq. The Soldiers met with village leaders, Aug. 13 to discuss current developments and civil service projects that will benefit the area.
KIRKUK, Iraq (August 19, 2008) — In the southern Rishad valley of Kirkuk province lies the remote village of Gaydah, located several miles from the nearest highway and even further from the nearest substantial city or district.
Already accustomed to seclusion, the village residents were surprised when Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division showed up in their community in February. The residents were more surprised when they announced that they would set up operations there, living and working with the residents for the next two months.
Operating from within a schoolhouse in the area, the Soldiers spent the next several weeks meeting with the villagers, providing humanitarian aid, rebuilding infrastructures, and planning future civil service projects.
The mission complete, Soldiers left. But they returned Aug. 20, along with members of the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, to receive updates and determine plans of action.
“The people of this village have been wary of the Coalition forces for the past several years because they have seen units come and go, and promises made that were never fulfilled,” said Capt. Gregory Hotaling, commander, Company D, 2-22 Inf. Regt. “We wanted to assure them that we were different, and to help prove our resolve, we lived among them in their impoverished community; experiencing for a short time the life they have always known.”
The community welcomed their friends back with open arms, grateful to see the Soldiers had kept their promise.
Leaders with the two units spent several hours inside the village mayor’s home; discussing the current situation of the area and future projects – while other Soldiers spent time talking and playing with the children outside.
Among the key issues discussed was the plan for a complete transfer of authority regarding the Iraqi infrastructure and planned projects.
“One of our main goals at this point is to put control of all future developments into the hands of the Iraqi people,” said Maj. Peter Colt, 443rd Battalion. “We want Iraqi people in charge of Iraqi projects – using Iraqi money and Iraqi workers as soon as possible, which will further stabilize the country and allow our forces to withdraw. ”
Until recently, the U.S. government has provided American dollars for all projects, with Coalition forces conducting the labor and Iraqi Security Forces following their lead. The focus is now being completely transformed, with the Iraqi people in charge of all future projects, while Coaliton forces step into the background, assisting only when necessary.
Relationships such as the one occurring between American troops and the village of Gaydah are emerging all over the country, signifying the kind of change the world hoped to see when operations first began here.
Such changes have been increasingly evident in the Kirkuk region, where Coaliton forces have witnessed security gains measured as a 67 percent reduction in total attacks across the province, according to military reports.
“No matter how big or small our operations might be, we remain dedicated in our efforts to help the Iraqi people gain a new life,” said Sgt. Kody Lunstrum, 2-22 Inf. Regt. “Despite the best of intentions, it is impossible to change the minds of everyone, but every little bit helps. Each new gesture that makes a difference is another step closer to permanent change.”
Lunstrum’s sentiment is echoed by his fellow Soldiers, who witness positive changes the rest of the world cannot see.
“When I talk to my family and friends back home, they want to know what it’s really like over here and if we are truly making a difference,” Hotaling said. “Each time, I have explained to them the kind of change they have not witnessed yet. Battles and lethal operations have long ago ceased to be priorities. Our focus now is a return to normalcy – living and working and interacting with the Iraqi people. Positive changes are happening every day. They might not be big or flashy, but they are making lasting improvements that have already put victory for the Iraqi people within their reach.”