Marines hand out happiness

19 Jul 2003 | Spc. Benjamin R. Kibbey

In the country of Iraq, where much of the population lives in abject poverty, even the smallest of gifts is a tremendous boost to the morale and well being of local residents.

This is especially true in the southern region, where the population of Shiites Muslims bore the brunt of abuse from Saddam Hussein's former regime

In Karbala, Iraq the Marines of K Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines are reaching out to the people Saddam forgot with goats, chickens, humanitarian rations, and soccer balls. The humanitarian patrols conducted almost daily are having the desired effect, battalion members say.

"I think (the patrols) are excellent," said Cpl. Gerald Hallman, from Palmyra, Pa., a team leader in 1st Platoon. "It's a good way to establish relations with the people.  It shows them we're here not only for their security but also to help them get established as a community."

Children and adults alike respond enthusiastically to the Marines pulling up in their 7-ton truck.

They crowd around, and once they get something, hug it close to them beaming.

The Marines select carefully when giving away food, livestock or soccer balls, being careful to ensure the items go to those who can use them most.

There are certain areas that are more impoverished than others and the Marines try to concentrate their efforts on those areas, Hallman said.

"You can tell these people are a little poorer, and we try to give it to the people who need it," he said.

The Marines make sure the individual items make it to the right people when crowds are swamping their truck, Hallman said.

"We give the soccer balls to the kids and the chickens to the adults," he said.  "I'm sure the little kids would bring the chickens back to their families, but you try to give them to the adults."

"Usually, like what we did yesterday, we went up to a compound where there were 15 families, and our translator got the head male of the compound, and we asked him to give the stuff to the head of each family," said Sgt. Jose L. Trejo, 1st Platoon guide, from Bakersfield, Calif.

The unit found that livestock giveaways carry a lot of weight with local residents, said Cpl. Chris Johnston, from Indiana, Pa., 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon team leader.

"For about the last month, we were also handing out candy," he said.  "This is the first time with chickens and sheep, although for the last couple weeks we've had soccer balls to give out too."

"It 's good to get out and give things to the people like this," Johnston said.  "We took it on ourselves one time to hand out some fruit, and we got a positive response from that."