By Army Sgt. James Hunter
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2008 - Every day, soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, patrol the streets of the Iraqi Family Village, an area near the Victory Base Complex here that is relatively safe and is home to citizens from throughout Iraq. When the war began in 2003, many families fled their homes to come to this once-abandoned orphanage on the outskirts of Baghdad.
The soldiers' mission in the village is simple: to keep the people safe and to work with the local council to improve the quality of life for the village's struggling residents.
Army 1st Lt. Andrew Bowling, a native of Medfield, Mass., said he believes a great many of the residents once were wealthy, but fell on hard times when the war began and needed to flee their homes, leaving their lives and their jobs behind.
The soldiers of HHB work tirelessly with the local council to improve the villagers' everyday lives in any way they can, Bowling said. For example, the soldiers are conducting a census to gather as much information as possible to give them a better understanding of who lives in the village and what they need.
Once a week, the soldiers meet with a panel of village council members who are important, well-respected people within the community. They talk about many of the issues and concerns of the community, Bowling said, and try to work out ways to solve their problems. For example, Bowling explained, the council is working on what to do about drug addicts and dealers who flee to the village because they believe it is a good place to hide out. Many are believed to be criminal escaping from Kadhamiyah, Shulla and Hurriyah, and the residents want to keep these men out, away from the good people of their quiet, stable area, Bowling said.
"The drug addicts come in and give drugs to the kids," he said. "They are a pretty legit threat to their safety." As they work on a long-term solution, the council members plan to lock up empty homes to keep away those fleeing away from a criminal past.
When U.S. soldiers began patrolling the area just over a month ago, trash littered the streets, Army Pfc. Blake Widner, a native of Bristol, Tenn., said. The soldiers organized two Iraqi Family Village Earth Day events, aimed at picking up trash within the community. Nearly 100 men, women and children gathered to police the littered streets, Widner said.
"If they want us to help, they've got to put in a little effort into it as well," Widner explained. "If they want it clean, they have to do a little bit of it themselves. It's starting to look better, one step at a time. It's getting cleaner and cleaner."
(Army Sgt. James Hunter serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)