Inaugural job fair draws thousands

21 Jun 2003 | Army Staff Sgt. David Bennett

The promise of jobs and a new way of life in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq brought thousands of area residents to a local soccer field June 21.

The job fair, coordinated by 1st Battalion, 4th Marines and Army civil affairs officials, marked the first time a widespread attempt has been made to place Al Hillah residents in jobs. Maj. Bob J. Broody, a team leader with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, an Army Reserve unit in Norristown, Pa., said the job fair sends a message that coalition forces want the Iraq people to become more independent.

"It's about paying people, which is a good thing," Broody said. "It's putting some money into the economy, which is a good thing. This is a patriarchal society. If the man can't provide for his family, he's not happy."

Broody, who is a chiropractor in Philadelphia, is attached to the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center in Al Hillah.

There are more than 500,000 unemployed soldiers from Iraq's disbanded army, including 18,000 that live in Al Hillah. This doesn't include pensioners and military widows who had been receiving regular payments from the state, but have not been paid in more than two months.

The former soldiers have been the most outspoken of state employees regarding the interruption of salaries. To assist them, coalition forces had arranged to give each an emergency payment of 30,000 Iraqi dinars, which is equivalent to about $20.

Lt. Col. John L. Mayer, commander of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, said though the job fair isn't a final solution to joblessness in the city, it's a small push toward a building a more stable economy.

"You have 18,000 unemployed soldiers in Al Hillah," Mayer said. "Today is about paying them and getting them jobs."

Though 18,000 people didn't show, at least 3,000 people turned up, including hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who arrived to receive the emergency payment. However, that number was more than anticipated, said Capt. Don J. Reese, company commander of the 372nd Military Police Co. based in Cumberland, Md.

"I hope it doesn't get anymore than this," Reese said. "We got five times the people we thought we were going to get."

It took all of organizers' skills to keep the big crowd focused on registration forms and in orderly lines in the sweltering heat, especially when some applicants voiced frustration over the wait.

Others in the crowded waited patiently, such as Mezher Rashied Al Shemary, an unemployed soldier.

"It is helpful that the soldiers are getting paid," he said. "It is not helpful that is so disorderly and noisy."

Event sponsors expected funds to be sufficient enough to pay all those eligible. However, they were prepared to go back for more money, said Capt. Paul J. Cassidy, a government support team leader with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Green Bay, Wis.

"We're set to go back to the bank if we need to," said Cassidy, a resident of Lansing, Mich.