3rd CAG: boots on deck, running in Iraq;

4 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi

Marines from the 1st Marine Division aren’t the only ones getting their boots dirty these days in Iraq. Marines from the 3rd Civil Affairs Group are engaged throughout the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s area of operations conducting Humanitarian Operations in the area known for it’s resistance to the Coalition.The activated reserve unit, headquartered at Camp Pendleton, Calif., acts as the liaison between the U.S.’s military presence and the local Iraqi government. This enables them to assist in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. “CAG is human relations,” said Sgt. Adrian Ambe, a 3rd CAG operations assistant. “You have to go out and be with the (local Iraqis) to feel their challenges and to understand their world,” said the Laurel, Md., native. “You look, you feel, you put initiatives together and act. Then we know how best to restore their communities.” I MEF recently assumed authority of the Western AO March 24 from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.“The Army has done a great job of building a foundation for us, we are thrilled to take the baton from them and continue to move forward,” said Lt. Col. Frank Ricapito, the CAG deputy commander.To complete their mission, six-man tactical teams are positioned with Marine infantry units throughout the I MEF AO. According to Ricapito, by coordinating with local officials, the tactical teams have first-hand knowledge of the deficiencies that need to be resolved in Iraqi communities. “Their boots are in the dust everyday on patrol and attending town council meetings,” said Ricapito, a CAG veteran of I MEF’s first deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom. “They’re the ones making our mission a reality.”He added the toughest challenge for the CAG is isolating the small percentage opposing the Coalition presence. In spite of this opposition, they are still able to continue their mission of restoring Iraq.The end results, according to Ricapito, an Irvine, Calif., native, are better school systems, businesses to employ Iraqis and medical supplies for the Iraqi populace. The bulk of the approximately 180-member unit is in Iraq, but liaisons are also in Kuwait and Jordan. These members are coordinating with nongovernmental organizations to enter and set up corporations in Iraq to afford new jobs for Iraqis.“That’s one of our main objectives – creating jobs and getting the country back to work,” said Ricapito.He added it’s the things that are sometimes taken for granted that allow a community to thrive, like running water, irrigation systems and plumbing.“We extend our hand in good faith to help them reconstruct and restore their lives back to normal,” said Ambe, who was born in Nairobi, Kenya and joined the Corps within two weeks of entering the U.S. in 2000. The strictly reserve force equips I MEF with all the tools needed for the humanitarian mission, said Ricapito. Their civilian experience brings doctors, lawyers, police officers, business owners and contractors to the front lines.“You can see the broad spectrum,” he said. “We have tremendous resources in terms of civilian expertise. ‘Why is this important?’ for instance, when dealing with government officials, we’ve got members who work in (government positions in the U.S.). That’s why CAG is in the reserves, we have that to offer to the mission.” Approximately 10 percent of the CAG members are on their second tour in Iraq. The rest of the unit is made up of volunteers from reserve commands throughout the U.S. Ricapito said. “The lessons gained from this deployment will be etched in history – the pain, the success, the wisdom – the list goes on,” said Ambe. “To be a part of that is truly remarkable.”