SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- One reserve Marine’s six-man team conduct patrols in this town outside Fallujah looking to help the Iraqi people build a better life.
Sgt. Matthew E. Dreher works as a civil affair Marine with Team 3, Detachment 2, 5th Civil Affairs Group, currently in direct support of the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based infantry unit, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. Every day brings a new adventure to this 25-year-old Arlington, Va., native who assists the Iraqi people in improving their quality of life.
“You have to be a people person to do this job because a lot of it involves interacting with the community,” said Dreher, whose serves as a firefighter for the Arlington County Fire Department when not on active duty. “I think doing firefighting and civil affairs is a perfect combination. When you are there to help somebody out, you have to be personable.”
The civil affairs Marines are exactly that as they patrol the city streets. The team smiles and waves to the Iraqi children they pass.
Equally important, the CAG Marines are currently working with the new Iraqi government to rebuild the war-torn country’s infrastructure.
To accomplish their part in this mission, the Iraqi Security Forces and Marines focus much of their attention on helping provide the community with clean drinking water and adequate medical supplies.
According to Maj. Chris E. Phelps, Dreher’s team leader, the joint military forces work to provide temporary relief for Saqlawiyah’s citizens while Iraq’s government is getting a foothold.
On April 28, Dreher and fellow CAG Marines patrolled the streets and visited the medical clinic here. Their mission: to conduct an assessment of the hospital and speak with local doctors to determine the medical needs of the population.
“We have a lot of medical supplies, stuff like IV solution, trauma dressing, and syringes,” Dreher said. “We’re going to give it out to the hospital here little by little, over time.”
“This stuff is just the icing on the cake,” Phelps said. “The clinic here could always use extra supplies like these, but their immediate medical need is antibiotics.”
According to Navy Lt. Jared Vogler, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s medical officer, unit personnel are also addressing this need by assisting Iraqi Security Forces distribute medical care packages.
“These care packages come with acute care medications, stuff like antibiotics and cough suppressants,” Vogler said. “A lot of it is medication left over from 3/5 and 2/1 (Marine units previously operating in Fallujah) that hadn’t expired and was still in perfect condition. Even though it’s only a temporary solution, it lets the population know that there are some meds here for them for the time being.”
In addition to serving Saqlawiyah’s medical needs, Dreher’s CAG team is working on the Saqlawiyah water treatment facility to provide an adequate supply for the community.
“This facility pumps water from the Euphrates River for 50,000 residents here,” Phelps said. “The workers have been running critically low on chlorine, (chemical used to purify drinking water).
Phelps also said the pipes used to move water from the plant to the town are approximately 60-75-years-old and in need of replacement.
“By the time it gets to the people, the quality of the water is severely degraded,” Phelps said. “We’re working with the community on possible plans to restore the facilities. For now, we’re helping provide them with what chlorine we can.”
However, the military and community leadership do not make these decisions on their own. Dreher and his teammates help brainstorm ideas to improve the quality of life for Saqlawiyah’s citizens alongside leaders like Phelps and the city council.
“What’s great about working with Major Phelps is that he hears input from everybody,” Dreher said. “We help make a lot of the decisions, and give him extra ideas. They say two heads are better than one; in this case, six are better than one.”
Dreher continued by saying that his close-knit civil affair team enjoys implementing the positive changes they help devise.
“Saqlawiyah is kind of a small community. Everything is pretty much within walking distance. So you feel closer to everyone, and you get to walk around and see all the schools. It makes me feel so good, because I get to see the rebuilding of the people here. I feel the same amount of pride doing this job as I do being a firefighter back home.”