CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
For the past five months, the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment have been conducting operations in the Iraq’s Rutbah district, which covers nearly 4,000 square miles of open desert terrain interspersed with towns, villages and nomadic-shepherd communities in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province.
The current mission and operating environment for these Marines is far different from units that served here earlier in Operation Iraqi Freedom when firefights with insurgents and roadside bombs were common occurrences.
Life in Al Anbar is calmer now, and the troops of 2/25, assisted by U.S. State Department officials, can focus much of their efforts on infrastructure development as part their counter-insurgency operations.
Capt. William Steuber, 34, of Naples, N.Y., is the battalion’s lines of operation manager. In this role, he coordinates the battalion’s efforts to establish security, political stability and economic prosperity in this corner of Iraq by helping local Iraqi leaders with governance, economics, essential services, rule of law, communications, and security.
“I was originally brought to the unit to assist the battalion as a forward air controller,” said Steuber, a KC-130 Hercules pilot by trade. “Once we got into country, however, the operations officer informed me that I would be responsible for LOO management. I didn’t know what LOO was, but thought it would be a minor collateral duty. I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Steuber explained that LOO management became the battalion’s main focus of effort over the past several months, encompassing everything from working with the Rutbah mayor and city council to conduct orderly weekly meetings to implementing community-based policing with the local Iraqi police force.
A lot of the battalion’s focus has been placed on the local schools, to ensure that the next generation of Iraqis is educated and capable of further developing Iraq’s democratic system of government and free-market economy in the years to come.
The Marines of 2/25, along with local government officials and police officers, have visited five Rutbah-area primary schools to speak to the children about joint efforts to ensure the security and effective governance in the city, thereby lending credibility to local leaders.
Together, Coalition forces and Iraqi officials have distributed thousands of dollars worth of school supplies, sporting goods and toys to the children, while compiling the first-ever comprehensive list of all schools in the district, identifying student demographics and specific infrastructure requirements to improve the squalid conditions to make the schools healthier and more suitable institutions for learning.
Muthana Jubaer Juwana, the current president of the Rutbah City Council, lauded the Coalition’s work in the schools, citing Steuber’s personal commitment to the children of Rutbah.
“I have seen tears in his (Steuber’s) eyes when talking about the children and their education here,” said Juwana. “He is so serious about this issue. His ambition has helped to keep me going.”
Juwana, whose professional background includes about 20 years in construction sales, is tasked with keeping order at the often volatile weekly city council meetings. One of the battalion’s major accomplishments in terms of governance was helping Juwana create a clear agenda and implement protocols at the meetings to make them more productive and foster a professional environment for the new leaders, who were only introduced to the concept of democratic rule about two years ago.
Mohammed Nori, the Rutbah city councilman who oversees all engineering projects, said that combined efforts and funding have brought more than 50 projects through to completion over past the 18 months in the Rutbah District. These include numerous water wells, pumps storage facilities, electric generators, a meat processing facility and a working fleet of heavy construction equipment.
Other LOO initiatives in progress include establishing an interactive website for local government agencies, building a soccer stadium, creating a microeconomics program for widows, standing up a business leaders’ council to spur economic development here and procuring laptop computers for primary schools in the Rutbah district through a non-governmental organization.
“Our battalion commander was quick to realize that we needed to approach the LOO programs with the same planning and execution as you would any other tactical operation,” said Steuber. “Each one of our projects is tied to a U.S. State Department goal for the Al-Anbar region. Each goal also contributes to our efforts to pull the support of the local population away from what is left of the insurgency and towards a brighter future.”
Anbar, which was one of the most violent regions in Iraq two years ago, has been relatively peaceful since local sheiks and other leaders began working with Coalition forces in 2006 to construct a credible, independent political and economic framework that will no longer require the assistance of Coalition forces.
“All of the programs we have within the battalion’s LOO management program are focused on the Iraqi people and their community,” explained Steuber. “We have installed a radio station. We have helped them publish a newsletter. We have helped the local judges prosecute over 930 criminal cases. We have helped the Iraqi Security Forces usher in a new era of interagency co-operation.
“During our short time here we have helped highlight issues for the local government to focus on that may not have received any attention. You have to remember that prior to 2007, there was no city council here, there was no mayor -- there was no chief of police. It took a lot of dedicated Marines and brave Iraqi leaders to get to this point. I am honored to be able to say I’ve been a part of it.”
As the Marines and sailors of 2/25 make preparations to depart Al Anbar province and return to the U.S. in the spring, most of the LOO management will be transferred to civilians from the U.S. State Department.
“The State Department, specifically the embedded provincial recovery teams (EPRTs), are integral to the current and future success of the story of Al-Anbar,” said Steuber. “I think of it this way: if Al-Anbar was a patient, the Marine Corps would be the paramedic, and in some cases the surgeon. The State Department would be the long term physical therapist that brings the patient’s life back to some semblance of normality. In our battalion, we work hand-in-hand with our EPRT representative. He is part of our team meetings, and we’ve come to trust and value what he brings to the table with his experience.”
Jerry Calhoun of Spring Hill, Fla., is the senior governance advisor and EPRT leader in the Rutbah District for the United States Agency for International Development, a federal organization which is currently operating in Iraq under the direction of the U.S. State Department.
“It has been extremely interesting (working with the Marines),” said Calhoun, who has worked for USAID in Iraq since October 2007. I see things from a civilian perspective and they come from the military background. It’s amazing how we’ve been able to mesh together so cohesively.”
“(The LOO program) is beginning to help the newly-formed government to stand on its own,” said Calhoun. “The LOO initiatives are helping the Iraqis to assess the needs of citizens and formulate plans to meet those needs.... I see that together we’ve been constructing a solid base for the Iraqis to be able to build on.”
As the Marines conduct their final patrols on the streets of Rutbah, they can see construction underway in every corner of the city, from improved streets and medians to apartment buildings and a new hospital project just months away from completion.
“We are just simply taking the combined efforts of others and pushing it just a little bit further,” said Steuber, referring to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps units which have operated in this area since 2003. “As for the future of Iraq, I am hopeful. We have seen some amazing things here during our time. We have seen the local religious leaders come together and request non-governmental organization status for the city’s widows. We have seen peaceful political demonstrations. We have seen the people of this region come together with one voice to vote for their leaders and participate in the gift that is democracy. The future of Iraq is bright, and full of hope,” concluded Steuber.