Memphis Marines assume new mission

23 Jul 2003 | Sgt. Christopher Carney

In order to broaden the coalition presence in southern Iraq, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment relocated to Aziziyah, Iraq July 28.

Settling in at the site of a former youth center in this rural city, which is located northwest of Al Kut in Wasit province, the Marine infantry company from Memphis, Tenn. has the job of helping the police maintain order as well as helping establish a stronger local government.

"We have a fourfold mission in Aziziyah," said Maj. Curt Heaslet, the company's executive officer, a Titusville, Fla. resident.  "We're here to support the police officers, establish a government that is representative of the people, stabilize the economy and create the groundwork for democracy."

K Company's compound is located in the city. Looking over the short walls numerous local residents can be seen going about their daily business. Working from this base, the Marines conduct daily walking patrols accompanied by Iraqi police into the neighborhoods and the marketplace.

"We're helping the police officers to get a good working force," said Maj. Nikita Seldon, K Company commanding officer, who is from Dallas, Texas.

Major Mike Trejchel, 1st Platoon commanding officer, said working with Iraqi police holds many benefits for the community.

"(Joint patrols) help the general public see that the police department is a viable force," he said. "Many Iraqis saw the police as a continuation of the old regime, of Saddam's party. We show the locals that the police can handle their problems."

"It's good to get out and see the people," said Sgt. Manuel Saldana, a squad leader for 1st Platoon. "For the most part, they seem happy."

Besides ensuring the safety of the population though joint patrols and manned checkpoints, the Marines are working on getting the local government functioning again following the disposal of the former regime.

"Four days ago the city council quit," Seldon said. "The council was made up of 150 people -- representative of the tribes. There was no cooperation and order. People got tired of this and they quit."

To make it more efficient, the large city council will be whittled down considerably to an advisory council of six or eight people. This will reduce the chaos of the large council and allow decisions to be made, according to Heaslet.

"The advisory council will be a group of citizens that work with the heads of departments, such as electrical, water, irrigation, police, schools, real estate, gasoline, and benzene," he said.

Though the department heads are active, they still need a mayor to oversee day-to-day city operations. The mayor, who has yet to be announced, will head the city council as well.

"We will probably appoint the mayor," Seldon said. "He'll probably be an Iraqi from Al Kut."

He explained the future mayor likely would be appointed from Al Kut so tribal loyalties wouldn't interfere with his position.

Working with the Marines from the 4th Civil Affairs Group, K Company leaders will meet soon with department heads and the leaders of the tribes to configure a council has equal representation.

"We hope over the next few weeks to have people in position to govern and to get things done for this city," Seldon said. "The utility heads are working, but they need focus and someone who can make a decision. Right now, they just don't have that."

According to Seldon, the interim government will run the city and surrounding areas until an official election is conducted.

Though the company's mission in Aziziyah is different than its wartime duties, their commander has complete faith in its members.

"We've always been up to the challenge, we wouldn't be here if we weren't," said Seldon. "We are going to be the initial phase of a free and functioning government."

The company executive officer is also confident in the unit and the task ahead.

"Our guys balance force with one hand, and presence of mind and maturity in the other.