IRAQ — Imagine not knowing where your next glass of water was coming from.
How would you bathe, cook or wash your clothes? Where would you get a drink when your mouth parched from thirst?
This is one of the struggles faced by Iraqi families displaced by aggression from Daesh, another name for the Islamic State. Clean water is necessary for survival, but it’s not something individuals on the run can produce on their own.
That’s why U.S. Marines and Soldiers at a remote Iraqi base have been working together for the last several months to provide purified water to a camp of displaced Iraqis that lives near the U.S. outpost.
“The Iraqi Army is providing humanitarian assistance for those guys, and we help them out with water and humanitarian assistance,” said Marine Capt. Nathan Stinson, a supply officer with Combat Logistics Regiment 15, who helps coordinate the resupply effort. To accomplish the mission Stinson works with Soldiers at the camp who are logisticians.
“What the Army does – we call them water dogs – they get water from the pump and purify it, and we escort them with our gun truck,” said Stinson.
“It benefits us, because right now we don’t have that capability, and they provide that. They don’t have the capability to provide their own security, and we provide that.”
After the Army loads clean water into a tanker and the Marines have prepared their gun truck, Marines and Soldiers gather in a small concrete room to receive a mission brief. Describing the mission, route and timeline, Stinson stands in front of wall with five “habits of thoughts.” Habit three reads, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Habit five: “Be professional, be polite, have a plan to kill only the enemy that hides amongst the innocent people we are here to protect.”
Fortunately, only one half of those habits will be necessary today.
The brief ends, and the convoy rolls out and soon arrives the camp.
The first thing you notice about the camp is the color. The orange brown from the sand reflects upward and tints the entire surroundings. The white tents, where the displaced Iraqis live, and the concrete blast walls surrounding the camp have an orange tinge from being coated with sand. Even the sky has an orange shade to it as sand from a recent wind storm floats on the horizon.
As the military vehicles roll into the camp, however, the color doesn’t keep your attention for long. Out of seemingly nowhere, more than a dozen children rush the water truck and turn their attention to its driver, Army Sgt. Ryan Archer, a water treatment specialist with the 24th Composite Supply Company, 17th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater).
Archer has been to the camp more than a dozen times, and the smiling children recognize him. Today, he’s brought them a soccer ball, which they call a football.
“The kids are very friendly,” said Archer. “We give them whatever we can. Christmas time was big. We gave them basketballs, footballs. Football is big. They love football.”
Archer then turns his attention to downloading the water into a storage tank. The water is used for “a lot,” he shared. “Showers, cooking, cleaning. That’s the only source of water they have in that little camp. Since the weather changed and it’s hot, they’ve been going through it like crazy.”
The kids, who appear to range from two to twelve years old, are mostly boys, as cultural differences dictate that only young girls are allowed to interact with the male Soldiers. The children head towards Army Command Sgt. Maj. James Richardson and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Rooker, civil affairs noncommissioned officer in charge, both with the 17th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater). With broad smiles, young boys fist bump Rooker and a seven-year-old boy with a bright smile and boundless energy shows Richardson how many push-ups he can do. Both Soldiers hand out candy and treats to the children.
Soon the kids run 50 yards from the Army water truck to the Marine gun truck, which has parked at the entrance to the camp. The Marines are also delivering pallets to the camp, which will be used as fire wood for cooking and heating water.
“The kids love us,” said Marine Sgt. Mitchal Bentley, a motor transport mechanic with 1st Marine Division, Truck Company. “Even the adults, they love to take pictures. As soon as they see us come in, they’re jumping and smiling. They look forward to seeing us. Whether we bring them something or not, they’re happy.”
A couple of the children run out with bags of fresh flatbread, which they eagerly give to the servicemembers.
“It’s a paying of respect,” said Bentley. “I didn’t ask for it. It’s the way of their people. If I give something to them, they have to give something to you, and food is important to them.”
It’s not just supplies that these servicemembers provide.
“I’ll take our (medic) corpsman, and he’ll assess them,” said Stinson. “If they have any injuries, we’ll report it to the Iraqi Army. If we have any ointments or creams, we’ll hook them up.”
On a previous trip, the Navy medic even helped dress the wounds of a woman who had been injured by a Daesh car bomb.
When it’s time to roll out, the Marines and Soldiers hustle back to their vehicles recognizing that, while they can’t undo the hurt and trauma these families have experienced, they have made a difference.
“You really feel for the kids,” said Stinson, who recently became a dad for the first time. “(We) try to give them hope. This is just temporary. We let them know we pray for their families.
“A lot of Americans don’t know what it’s like to have nothing. And these people have nothing.”
Their material possessions are few, but as the Americans leave, Stinson believes they’ve left something else behind – “Hope. This is just temporary.”
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