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Civil Military Operations Platoon Helps Neighborhood

By Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, Nov. 26, 2007 – Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment’s Civil Military Operations Platoon, stopped at the Daklea Market in Baghdad Nov. 18 to take a census of sorts among the shop owners.

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Army Spc. John Ackerman, a medic with the Civil Military Operations Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, keeps watch as members of his platoon conduct a census of the Daklea Market in the Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad, Nov. 18, 2007. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, USA

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The platoon was documenting all the shop owners in the area. That day they catalogued the last shops.

“It’s all about sales,” said Army 1st Lt. Quinn Robertson, the platoon’s leader from Richmond, Va., who sold stocks before joining the Army. “It’s all about selling yourself. That’s how you talk to them.”

Robertson’s strong background in the business world and his time as a battery executive officer and battalion intelligence officer have served him well with the platoon, he said, as he helps Iraqis learn how to rebuild their nation.

“It’s all about the relationship building,” he said after meeting and greeting various Iraqis at the market. “They don’t come from the same backgrounds as we do, so we are reintroducing them to the process – the who and where you get the money from to get things done. The way you talk to them goes a long way.”

The CMO platoon, created in September, was the brainchild of former Civil-Military Officer, Army 1st Lt. Alex Barnett, who saw its creation as a way to free up combat power, said Lancaster, Pa., native Army 1st Lt. Neal Rice, the battalion’s civil military operations officer.

“Before we had the platoon, line platoons were escorting us all over the battlefield,” the 27-year-old said. “CMO became such a big part of our mission that we were getting inundated. So the commander said, ‘Let’s get a platoon.’ Now CMO has freedom of movement anywhere in the area of operations.”

The platoon -- made up of various military occupational specialties including administrative, medical, infantry and cannon crewmembers -- has helped to calm a once restive market.

The battalion, and the platoon, brought a local religious leader over to their side with signs of progress, Robertson said.

“He was not exactly on the fence,” he said. “But we brought him onto the fence then our actions brought him over. We asked if he was the power in the neighborhood and he said, ‘Yes.’ So we put him together with the neighborhood (advisory) council. With the NAC and him together, the bad guys could only take him so far.”

And the neighborhood began to steadily improve, he added.

Besides helping get the Daklea Market back on its feet, the platoon is tasked with “getting sewage off the streets, getting the pumping stations working, assessing schools and assisting the Iraqi police auxiliary in Yarmouk,” said Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Whaley, an infantryman from Bloomington, Ind., and CMO platoon sergeant.

The platoon also helped with police auxiliary recruitment drives in Hateen and Yarmouk. But, the success of the platoon goes back to one thing, Robertson said.

“It’s all about relationship building,” the 33-year-old five-year Army veteran said.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons serves with 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy 1st Lt. Quinn Robertson, platoon leader for 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment's Civil Military Operations platoon, speaks to a shop owner in the Daklea Market about the state of the Baghdad neighborhood. Robertson, who was a stockbroker before he joined the Army, said dealing with Iraqis is about selling yourself in order to get them to trust you. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Iraqi shopkeeper is a blur as he fills an order from his fully-stocked shop in Baghdad’s Daklea Market, Nov. 18, 2007. The neighborhood has seen an economic revival since concerted efforts were made to improve its basic necessities. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons, USA  
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