AN NAJAF, Iraq -- Marines and soldiers assigned to 1st Marine Division, successfully kicked off a bonus payment program that will reach out to more than 2500 disabled, infirmed, and, elderly residents of this Iraqi province.
The Social Welfare Ministry of Najaf paid 899 people $40.00 each on July 19, the first day of the program, as civil affairs, military police and psychological operations soldiers supporting the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment stood by to assist local police and ministry officials.
The one-time stipend is meant to supplement the normal social welfare payments that disadvantaged Iraqis receive quarterly from the state, according to Army Sgt. Holly C. Malueg, one of the program coordinators for the 342nd Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Green Bay, Wis. She explained that before the war, the social welfare ministry issued payments to recipients for six months.
"The money comes from funds seized in Baghdad," said Malueg, who works as a bank loan officer in her hometown of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. " The money is something extra to hold them over until the next regular payment."
Military officials had some concerns about the payment distribution. After major combat operations ended in May, earlier payment programs overwhelmed everyone's expectations, causing coalition troops problems in organizing and controlling the crowd, which was larger than expected.
"It helps that we got here early," said Army Sgt. Alfredo F. Gonzales, a military policeman with the 870th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit based in Pittsburgh, Calif. that supported Najaf's local police officers.
Once the payment recipients were told how the money would be distributed, the MPs spent more time helping senior citizens navigate the rocky terrain than assisting police with crowd control.
"This is someone's grandpa," said Army Sgt. Phillip M. Vitela, a Walnut Creek, Calif. resident with the 870th as he helped an older gentleman to the front of the line.
Troops also made sure an awning was erected to protect the elderly and the disabled from the intense Iraqi sun.
"We learned some lessons from when we paid the [former] military and the retirees," said Malueg, "We set up earlier and we organized it so not everyone would show up on the same day."
The civil affairs teams worked with the ministry officials to make sure they had enough money on hand, and they also called upon a team from the 315th Psychological Operations Company, an Army Reserve unit based from Upper Marlboro, Md., to provide a truck with a loud speaker so recipients could receive instructions.
"Everything is going smoothly," said Malueg. "The money is here and everyone seems to be cooperating."