HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- Western Iraq, along the Syrian border, is a far cry from the mountains of Washington and sunny days and summer afternoons partying on a lake. The physical distance is measured in thousands of miles, but the difference in atmosphere, environment and mentality may as well be a galaxy away.
Corporal Jason L. Johnson, a reservist from Auburn, Wash., closed that gap when he volunteered for mobilization and assignment June 2005 to 6th Civil Affairs Group, out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. It brought him to this small, dusty city in Iraq’s Al Qaim region participating in the effort to reconstruct the area after Operation Steel Curtain was mounted to destroy the insurgency here.
Being part of a team responsible for the civic rehabilitation of a city like Husaybah isn’t Johnson’s full-time job.
“Back home I drive forklifts at night and my friend Chad and I have a landscaping business we run during the day,” said the 23-year-old field radio operator and 2000 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School.
When he is not working two jobs or on his drill weekend, you can likely find him outdoors, whether he is hunting, four-wheeling or spending time with his friends on a local lake having a good time.
But for now, the name of the game is civil affairs. When Johnson and the other Marines from 6th CAG aren’t outside of the walls of the small battle position situated in what is essentially downtown Husaybah, they are fielding claims from Iraqi residents for damage to their property as a result of Operation Steel Curtain.
It is Johnson’s responsibility to schedule appointments and keep the peace in what can be a hectic environment on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays when the claims-processing center is open.
“My big task back here is managing people with claims,” said Johnson. “When you’ve got 300 people waiting outside and you know you’re only going to see 30 that day, they start to get pretty frustrated.”
One of Johnson’s other responsibilities is the search of the residents that come to file claims with a magnetic search wand.
“We use it mainly on the women, because we’re not allowed to pat them down,” he said.
On the other four days of the week, Johnson, like all members of the CAG team, is a jack-of-all-trades doing those tasks that crop up when necessary.
“Our main priorities here are water, electricity and getting the schools up and running,” Johnson said. “On our last patrol we went out and looked at the schools and the bank to see how the progress was coming.”
On one patrol, Johnson, staying behind with the small convoy that took the CAG out to look at those schools, radioed up to fellow civil affairs Marine, Lance Cpl. Jason Joyce, a Greensboro, N.C., native.
“Corporal Johnson wants to know if he can hand out some soccer balls, sir,” said Joyce to Lt. Col. Robert Glover, the director of the Al Qaim regional Civil-Military Operations Center. Glover nodded his head in assent.
When Johnson walked into the courtyard with the bright red and white soccer ball, one might think he’d just walked in with an armload of candy or a briefcase full of dinar the way the kids swarmed him. Though he pretended to be annoyed, the huge grin on his face as he played “keep away” from the Iraqi children told the real story. Finally, the kids wrenched the ball from his hands and immediately went to play soccer.
“We’re not just here to kill people and blow stuff up. We’re here to do some good stuff, too,” he explained. “We’ve worked hard to get power and water back on.”
Asked what he is most looking forward to after getting home, he replied, “Seeing my family, my two brothers, mom and dad and [girlfriend] Crystal, and sleeping in my own bed.”