Soldiers Blanket Iraqis in 'Operation Windy City'
By Maj. Webster M. Wright III, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 2, 2004 As the Iraqi climate begins to creep into biting winter cold, the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Commandos," deployed from Fort Drum, N.Y., are preparing to help the local government provide a little warmth to the citizens of Baghdad.
The Commando Brigade is working on a plan to provide local leaders from western Baghdad blankets to distribute to the local population, who for the last 30 years had been ignored by Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party.
Throughout the last several months, the soldiers of the brigade have been building rapport with the locals in an effort to show their good will. Projects have been aimed at both short- and long-term solutions for basic needs.
"We have spent over $1 million in our sector of the city alone on rebuilding infrastructure -- water and sewer lines, agricultural, reconstitution, and schools," said Army Maj. Dan Barzyk, 2nd BCT civil military officer. "These are great projects, but they are long-term."
The Iraqis also have immediate needs. "We asked the local leaders, the sheiks and imams, what they thought they needed," said Army Lt. Col. Michael J. Infanti, deputy commander of the Commando Brigade. "They thought all of the longer-term projects were good and necessary, but were concerned about the upcoming winter. Working with them, we all agreed that blankets were the best option."
The first set of large fleece blankets will be given to the residents of an abandoned building was been converted into apartments within the Commando Brigade's area of operations, Infanti said. "If the project goes over well with the local leaders and people, we will purchase another $50,000 worth of blankets," he said.
Infanti said he named the project "Operation Windy City" as a tribute to his Chicago-area roots. "My relatives immigrated to the U.S., and if anyone gave them some assistance I thought this would be like paying them back," he said. "Besides, I want to see the Iraqi people succeed, and by naming this operation after Chicago I figured its chance for success would increase.
"No one has ever paid any attention to these people. They were ignored by Saddam's regime," Infanti said. "They are outside of Baghdad and were of no political significance to Saddam's power base."
The program began as a concept and was scrutinized by the Commando staff to ensure it was both feasible and ethical. "We checked with the Staff Judge Advocate to ensure we were not breaking any laws or doing anything to get us in trouble," Infanti said. "We found out that it was in fact legal as long the blankets were distributed through local leadership."
The goodwill and humanitarian aid does not stop there. "Nearby is an abandoned school which will be restored and reopened as an all-girl school," said Army 1st Lt. Jennifer Knowlden, a military police officer assigned to the Commando BCT.
Within the 1st Cavalry Division, which is the brigade's higher headquarters in Iraq, there seems to be an eager anticipation for positive results.
"The other brigades are watching to see how this goes," Infanti said. "Our BCT has used ideas the other brigades developed, and I think if this idea works the other brigades will follow suit. Plus, the 1st Cav. leadership supports this initiative 100 percent.
"It doesn't matter if these people are Sunni, Shia, or Christian; they are people that need help," he said. "That's what we do; we help the people here as they try to build a better life for themselves."
"We are doing this out of our concern for the residents of Baghdad," Barzyk said. "The insurgents don't care about the needs of the locals, they just destroy things and cause fear."
(Army Maj. Webster M. Wright III is the public affairs officer for the 10th Mountain Division.)