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Civil Affairs Soldiers Making a Difference One Project at a Time

By Sgt. Mark Bell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAHGDAD, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2003 – He's opened the canals that supply water to farmers across southern Baghdad, provided a medical clinic to an isolated community, and given new schoolbooks to young Iraqi children. But more importantly, he is giving his soldiers the chance to make a difference for the Iraqi people.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Col. John Huntley, 414th Civil Affairs Battalion commander, an Army Reserve unit from Utica, N.Y., and Sheik Saad Abid Kadahiu rotate the floodgate handle releasing water into the agriculture communities southwest of Baghdad recently. Photo by Sgt. Mark Bell, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Col. John Huntley, 414th Civil Affairs Battalion commander, a 21-year Army veteran and New York state veterinarian, said being a soldier in Iraq is the best place to make a difference in the world today. "We are working in a way to help the Iraqi people here, and at the same time working for the best interest of Iraqi people and coalition forces," he said.

Although Huntley commands the small unit of 17 soldiers from Utica, N.Y., he said his soldiers deserve all the credit for a big difference. Although small, Huntley said the civil affairs teams around Iraq is where the small war on terrorism is going to be won.

Huntley said the civil affairs soldiers are the interface between civil and military operations. He said civil affairs teams help with rebuilding Iraq by assisting the different levels of governments to rebuilding themselves.

"In the aftermath, what we are working on is civil administration," he said. "Everything you associate with the normal function of a municipal government we are trying to restore and build in Iraq."

Huntley said his team is keying in on governments, "The ability for Iraqis to build themselves," he said, "that's how coalition forces are going to exit Iraq when they can go and take over themselves."

Huntley said working with the neighborhood, district and city level administration is the key element that will allow the Iraqi people to move to a better Iraq. "They need to have the ability to build those structures," he said. "That will carry them into the future with a new Iraq that will interact with the international community."

He noted that his biggest gift to the Iraqi people is education. "It gives you a fresh perspective in life," he said about educating them. "It's one of the few things that keeps you engaged on a daily basis and as you get older, you keep learning to keep from getting stale. Every day is an adventure. You are always learning something new."

Huntley said his teams have the opportunity to help a lot of people here. With school projects filling his calendar, Huntley said seeing the end result of a lot of hard work is the ultimate gift given to him and his soldiers.

"You can see it in the children's faces," he said. "They truly appreciate the restoration we have done. The teachers are happy with the upgrade with facilities."

Huntley said restoring schools is a good way to demonstrate to Iraqi people that coalition forces are trying to improve the quality of life for the average Iraqi. Whether he is cutting the ribbon on a new school, putting the final touches of paint on a medical clinic or turning the crank to release fresh water to the desert croplands, Huntley said changes won't happen overnight.

"The American people need to realize we are not here for the short term," he said. "Right now, especially in the environment we are in, we need to worry about our long- term goals."

He said he thinks the stability of the operation is the future of Iraq. "This is where the long-term success will be made," he said pointing to his list of upcoming projects. "What our team is doing is demonstrating the successes that will generate popular support and our enemies are after the same popular support, and I think we are taking that ground away from them."

Huntley said his soldiers are the drive behind his success as a battalion commander. He pointed out that he couldn't be more proud of his youngest and brightest soldiers.

"I've got specialists and sergeants with a tremendous responsibility," he said. "Everyone really has stepped up to the plate and done a great deal to make these projects successful."

More importantly, Huntley said his soldiers are proud of the work they have done. "They enjoy working with the people here, and I think this is definitely something they'll be proud of for rest of their lives," he said.

Together, Huntley and his small band of soldiers who working nonstop behind the scenes and without the high-profile media coverage are making a difference one small project at a time. "I have something to return home to be really happy about," he said. "The whole experience has taught me that I really have enjoyed working with the Iraqi people. They genuinely want what is best for their children, and I hope I have helped them achieved their goal."

(Army Sgt. Mark Bell is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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