GHARTAN, Iraq --
It was an Iraqi-led patrol that brought the Iraqi soldiers of 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, and the Marines from the Military Transition Team, who support the battalion, throughout the streets of Ghartan. The men traveled among the busy townspeople and the bustling markets to a renovated school to set up for a combined medical engagement held here, Oct. 18.
Men, women and children gathered against a brick wall in front of a small Iraqi school. On the rooftops and the roads surrounding the school were Iraqi soldiers standing security, and searching and conducting vehicle checkpoints. Female Marines with 2nd Marine Logistics Group respectfully searched females in a private shelter outside the school. Corpsmen from Camp Al Taqaddum Surgical and Marines with the MTT helped provide and coordinate medical care for the local Iraqi population who were entering the school.
The purpose behind this synchronized effort was to provide medical care to the locals of Ghartan. The city, located northwest of Fallujah, was once part of an area labeled Iraq’s Wild West, but is now quite peaceful thanks to the Iraqi army and police in the area.
“We all care about our country. It is our responsibility,” said Maj. Hadi Atya, the Iraqi officer in charge of the operation. “Now we can help the locals and gain their support.”
The people’s acceptance is essential to the continued peace and security in the area, said Atya, who added the newfound peace is what allows progress to grow and operations like the CME to be possible.
“Although it’s not easy for anyone to make this transition, its worth the time and energy, because it’s another step closer toward this whole process being complete,” said Cpl. Guillermo L. Fargas, a 23-year-old advisor for the MTT, who lives and works alongside the Iraqi soldiers. “That is the purpose of the MTT and operations like the CME, so these soldiers succeed, especially with the local populace.”
During the engagement, it became obvious the locals enjoyed the presence of the security forces, said Fargas, a South Bronx, N.Y., native, and 2002 All Hallows High School graduate.
Sgt. Samantha T. Hartman, a 24-year-old communications chief with 2nd MLG, agreed with Fargas about how lighthearted the event had become.
“Even while we are searching women to make sure they do not have anything dangerous on them, they smile at us, show us their children and, besides their ailments, they seem happy,” said the Cleveland native. “The reason we search them is because in this culture it’s disrespectful for men to search females or even look at their wives in public. With us out here, it makes everything easier, since it’s culturally acceptable for us to do this.”
The success of the engagement was evident as the Iraqi and U.S. medical professionals were treating patients and prescribing remedies to the locals. The patients visited the arranged pharmacy within the school, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Tiffany J. Sharkey, a 23-year-old laboratory technician with Taqaddum Surgical.
“I think we are all very successful out here,” said Sharkey, a Bridgeport, Mich. native and 2002 Baptist Academy High School graduate. “We see people until we are completely out of medicine. Plus, I like getting to interact with them and as long as we can help out at least one person, we have made that much of a difference.”
A tool of the insurgents is to paint Iraq Security Forces and coalition members as dangerous, irresponsible and unconcerned for the welfare of the locals. One of the main goals of the Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces was to combat this misinformation.
“To the terrorists we must be feared, to the people we must be looked to for help,” said Atya. “ I want us to be as an eagle to the terrorists and a dove to the people. By doing this, I dream that I will someday be able to once again take long walks at night and feel at peace. We are very close.”
According to Fargas, the major is right when he expresses how far the Iraqis have come in the past year.
“Right now, we advise the Iraqis, but they have been doing a lot of operations that are all Iraqi driven,” said Fargas, as he observed an Iraqi soldier who was buying a crowd of energetic kids treats at a local market. “They go out more and more on their own. There will come a point when there is no need for a MTT team anymore. This is the end goal, and it’s happening.”