By Pfc. April Campbell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 30, 2008 - As the teal dump truck made its way down the muddy street, local citizens appeared from behind the gates guarding their houses. They walked to the truck, their hands full of an empty burden. The truck represented an opportunity these people had not seen in a while. For five months, the people in the village had gone without propane, and they were optimistic their empty tanks would return to them full, in the hope that they would be able to cook inside for a change that night.
About 50 households in the villages of Fahama and Gumayrah will be able to cook using propane this month after soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division Baghdad, escorted some of the villagers to the neighboring town of Boob Al Sham to exchange their empty tanks for full ones Jan. 27.
The help came a little more than two weeks after Silver Lion soldiers with the 3rd BCT's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, and Civil Affairs Team 2, Company B, 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 360th Civil Affairs Brigade, met with leaders from the Fahama region to discuss essential-service needs in the area, said Army Capt. Enardo Collazo, a native of Salinas, Puerto Rico, who serves as commander of HHC, 1-68th AR.
At the meeting, leaders brought up the problem many in the region were having obtaining propane. Boob Al Sham is geographically close by, but the people in Fahama and Gumayrah have reservations about traveling there because it has been a volatile location in the past. With an armored escort, those reservations were put to the side on this day.
Each household is given vouchers by the Iraqi government for three propane tanks per month; a total of 150 tanks were taken to the propane facility and exchanged, said Army 1st Lt. Nick Piergallini, 1st Platoon leader, Company D, 1-68th AR, currently attached to HHC, 1-68th AR.
"On average, three or four families might live in one Iraqi household, so between 150 and 200 families were supplied with propane," the Easton, Pa., native added.
In an environment filled with sand and mud, cooking is difficult without propane. People in the villages have been burning wood they chop themselves to heat their food. "Propane is more convenient and cleaner for them to use," Collazo said. "While they can cook inside with propane, they must cook outside when burning wood."
Not only does the aid provided by the soldiers help the local population, it also is a way for the soldiers to reassure the people of their support.
"What we did today made an immediate impact on the villages," he said. "It helped to strengthen the local trust of coalition forces."
Sheik Emad Abdul-Settar Muhammad, the senior sheik for the village of Fahama, helped to coordinate the tank collection and rode in the dump truck escorted by the Silver Lions.
The assistance provided by the Americans was much needed and appreciated, Emad said.
The effort was an immediate response to the issue of refilling the villagers' propane tanks; the Silver Lions are trying to help negotiate a long-term solution to the problem.
"It's too expensive to build a (propane) factory in Fahama," Collazo said. "The solution I have developed is to find a local contractor who is more comfortable with traveling to Boob Al Sham to deliver and pick up the propane tanks."
In the meantime, families who received propane will not have to bear the cold, muddy weather outside to eat a hot meal for a while.
Seeing the dump truck driving back through the street in Gumayrah a few hours later, villagers of all sorts ran out to pick up their tanks. This time, the burden they carried back with them was full.
(Army Pfc. April Campbell serves in public affairs at Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.)