First Marine Expeditionary Force pays former Iraqi soldiers

15 Jul 2003 | Army Sgt. Troy Chatwin

Once the war was over and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers left their units to return home, a huge pool of unemployed men was created nationwide.

One of the major steps in getting Iraq back on its feet is to bring these former soldiers back into the work force so they can be productive and earn money for their families.

To help infuse the local economy, coalition forces have organized a pay effort in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq. During an inaugural pay event held July 14 and 15, a team of coalition soldiers and Marines, called Task Force Hope, paid 1,200 police officers more than $300,000, or two months' back pay. In addition, $85,000 was paid to 1,400 former military soldiers.

Similar pay events will take place over the next few weeks.

"This is the most important activity in Iraq by the coalition forces right now, and more complicated than anything in the war so far," said Marine Lt. Col. Patrick C. Malay, a Buffalo, N.Y. native who is serving as the provincial military commander for the Ad Diwaniyah area. "We are paying the former military and registering them for job placement in the reconstruction efforts. They are a good army and good management means paying them so they can take care of their bills."

To keep money rolling in, the former Iraqi military troops are being registered for public safety jobs such as expanded police departments, a proposed border patrol and a new security protection force. People with experience in the construction and engineering fields are also needed since the former army held a large portion of these occupations as well, Malay said.

"The police chief and governor approached [the coalition forces] saying they need security officers for the city," said Army Maj. John Hope, a financial broker from Jefferson City, Mo. and government support team chief the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Green Bay, Wis. "They told us we have trained, well-bodied men who want to work. So we started the police academy by training their trainers."

The police academy cadre is now training dozens of fresh recruits to fill the rank and file of the police department in Ad Diwaniyah.

The conscripts who were drafted recently into the new Iraqi Army will receive a single payment for their service. Former soldiers who were in the regular army will receive monthly payments for the immediate future, ranging between $100 and $150 depending on an individual's service record.

Jalal Abd Abbas, a police officer on special duty during the pay event and a former anti-aircraft gunner in the Iraqi air defenses, received a payment of $240 covering his salary for July and August, as well as a stipend for his military service.

"We came here not only for the money, but we also want to serve our friends, our little town, and friends in the coalition forces," said Abbas, who plans on using the money to get married and start a home.

He is happy for today's events because it marks "the end of Saddam Hussein" and the money he received will cover all his needs, unlike when he was a conscript.

To support the payout in Ad Diwaniyah, a team from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Army soldiers from civil affairs, military police, and psychological operations, and Navy Seabees came together with as a team of about 1,200 service members. Many of the U.S. forces working on this project see this as a partnership the United Stated has made with the people of Iraq.

"When we came over here to Iraq, we told the people we would help them if they did not fight us," said Petty Officer 1st Class James Pell, an Albuquerque, N.M. resident who is an operator in the Scout Sniper Platoon for Headquarters and Service Company. "I am proud of everything we have done since the end of the war."

In order to make the former soldiers' visit to the pay site as comfortable and safe as possible, the soldiers of 312th Psychological Operations Company broadcast information on the availability of food, water and toilets over loudspeakers.

"We want the Iraqi people to have an experience like when you go to Disneyland," said Army Capt. Vincent Marchionni, team leader from the 312th, which is based in Upper Marlboro, Md. "They should start hearing instruction as they walk towards the gates and know where to go once they get there."

The Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 of Gulfport, Miss. built several awnings for shade, water dispensers, and a modified sea hut with fans and windows to serve as a pay office.

With approximately 45 Seabees working around the clock, they were able to prepare the site almost overnight.

"They literally moved heaven and Earth to stand this up overnight," said Hope. "NMCB-7 has been just awesome in their support."

In the end, all the effort was to achieve a result that benefited both sides.

"This is a quality-of-life issue," said Navy Lt. Keith Lemon, the commander of the Seabee unit, who is a native of Seattle. "This is an integral part of what is happening here. We are maintaining the commander's intent of winning hearts and minds."