3/1's CAG facilitating progress for Iraqi's future

25 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. K. T. Tran

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – As the Marine convoy makes its way through the outskirts of Fallujah, a crowd of Iraqi children run barefoot on the hot gravel. “Chocolatay, chocolatay, mister!” they shout, welcoming and waving to their new American friends. They waited all week to greet them: the Civil Affairs Group of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “Our main mission is to solve the problems in the communities we work with and to facilitate their needs,” said Maj. Larry J. Kaifesh, officer-in-charge of 3/1’s CAG. Kaifesh, a Carpentersville, Ill., native, has been conducting civil affairs missions in 3/1’s area of responsibility since early January. “Ideally, we’re giving them the life they deserve,” he added.Kaifesh and his team of CAG Marines are popular in villages they visit. The locals address him by yelling “Kaifesh!” greeting him and his Marines as if they are old friends. His communication skills and electric personality, assisted by his Iraqi translator, Camille, has won the hearts of many local children and adults. Making eye contact and smiling at his Iraqi neighbors, his offers are received as genuine. He and his CAG team are known to the locals as not “just talkers,” but Marines who bring positive action: committed to help Iraqi communities help themselves for a brighter future.“Major Kaifesh and his Marines are the number one fire support asset in the ‘Thundering Third’ (3/1),” said Lt. Col. Willy A. Buhl, Commanding Officer of 3/1. “They go around making people’s lives better on a daily basis, all over the place.”The CAG Marines on the convoy are always on the alert, assisted by security elements of 3/1. Gripping their weapons tightly with expectations of an ambush or improvised explosive devices, they remain vigilant. “We go out every day to different sites,” Kaifesh said. “Every time we go out, it’s a risk. There’s a chance of getting hit every time, from small arms fire to IEDs.”Elements of 3/1 provide security for the CAG Marines. Private First Class Angel Milan, Headquarters and Service Company, 3/1, has been providing security since the unit’s arrival. The Staten Island, N.Y., native, joined the Corps shortly after the September 11 attack.“It’s dangerous, but this is what we do,” said Milan, an administration clerk by trade, a rifleman first.Another challenge the CAG faces daily is the desert heat. Temperatures hover at 110 degrees. To compensate, Marines constantly hydrate, keeping their bodies cool. Sweat pouring down their faces doesn’t stick around long enough, though, as the scorching desert heat, sand and wind rapidly dries and parches the face, including nostril hairs.Since February, more than two million dollars has been either paid or obligated to better the lives of Iraqi citizens, in 3/1’s area of operation alone, according to Kaifesh. I Marine Expeditionary Force has sent one CAG team, such as 3/1’s, to every battalion in theater.“Since we’ve been in country, we have been able to complete over 150 projects,” Kaifesh said. “We have built and renewed dozens of schools, medical clinics, women’s centers, Internet cafes, mosques and recreational areas.”The Thundering Third’s CAG also made a routine visit to an Iraqi police station, fire department, and a newly built stadium that will host Olympic style competitions for the physically and mentally impaired Iraqis.“This is all new,“ said Gunnery Sgt. Mark D. Kline, assistant team leader for 3/1’s CAG and native of Kansas City, Mo. “The project, built by Iraqi contractors, cost nearly $67,000,” he added, commenting on the center. The facility includes a courtyard with a garden, a covered seating area to watch the games and events, two locker rooms, a concession stand and a workshop. The office complex consists of three offices for workers and administrators, a storage room for wheel chairs and crutches, and a recreational room for playing and teaching.“This project is a shining star in a list of shining stars,” Kaifesh said. “To make it even better, everyone who worked on this project was physically impaired. During the opening of the facility, there were physically impaired Iraqis who came from all over the country just to pass their regards.” As the Marine convoy pulls out for it’s next few stops, the children yell “Kaifesh, Kaifesh!” thanking him and his Marines for stopping.The CAG also stopped at a water purification treatment facility, one of seven such projects in the outskirts of Al Kharma, one of four major population centers in 3/1’s AOR. This particular facility cost approximately $60,000, and will provide potable drinking water for more than 300 homes. Previously, the village’s sole water source was a small, dirty stream.Another important visit was to check on the status of a newly constructed medical facility. Near completion, the medical facility will offer local Iraqis basic medical services. Most will be able to walk to the facility, offering convenience and affordability as the facility will not charge for it’s services.For nearly eight hours, the CAG team made its round robin of assistance visits. Checking on construction projects of community centers, mosques, and a camp for the Iraqi National Guard, the Marines note progress. At one visit, an Iraqi National Guard officer asks for more money to upgrade his unit’s chow. It was granted, but the CAG, in exchange, was also promised quicker progress on some additional projects being worked on at the compound.The Thundering Third’s CAG has acquired a highly regarded reputation with this ING unit. “We’ve brought and installed an electric transformer for the Iraqi National Guard Unit, so their electrical power can be more reliable and consistent,” Buhl said.“Before we got here, the Iraqis (ING) were sleeping on carpet outside on the grass,” said 1st Lt. Donald J. Toscano, a weapons company 3/1 platoon commander who is the officer-in-charge of the Combined Action Platoon of Delta Company. “Now they have racks,” said the Miami, Fla., native, “and sleep the way we do.”The 3/1 CAG is on the road six days a week depending on their scheduled plans, making stops at all the project sites to check on progress. Included in their daily stops, the team looks for potential new projects.And while smiles and waves mostly greet this special group of men, sometimes the villages aren’t so receptive. Traveling in one village that day, the CAG entered a village that seemed like a scene of “Blackhawk Down.” Iraqi children and women were peering through gates of their homes, catching a glimpse of the United States Marines. Some seemed frightened, others, shy, and yet others indifferent to the incoming assistance.Dangerous, but necessary missions, the Thundering Third’s CAG of 3/1 continue to facilitate progress for Iraqi’s future.“There are many problems with facilities and infrastructure that need to be dealt with, but there’s not enough time in a day to get to all of them,” Kaifesh said. “But we give it our best shot, and hopefully we’re accomplishing our goal, to make a positive impact on every person, place and thing we come in contact with on a daily basis.”