American Forces Press Service
March 4, 2009 - U.S. forces in Iraq are contributing to the health and welfare of Iraqis through events such as medical outreaches and business and job fairs. Two soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team are proving that even small-scale efforts go a long way. Army Capt. Candi Darst and Army Spc. Nicholas Pieper, assigned to the 27th Brigade Support Battalion, have been using their medical skills to help coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as civilians, in southern Iraq's Maysan, Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces, since their unit arrived in Iraq last summer.
"While the contributions of the brigade physical therapist are not immediately noticeable, the effects are felt throughout the brigade through improved morale and welfare to the soldier," explained Darst, lead physical therapist. "It is an invaluable asset, and preserves the well-being of numerous soldiers."
Darst uses sports injury medical practices to heal many of the soldiers' and civilians' injuries. She travels at least once a month to provide care to the troops in remote locations.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Steven Bliss, a physical therapy technician working in Darst's coverage area, said she brings unprecedented support to the area. "I have spent time on what seems like a hundred outposts over here, and have not experienced the level of support given by Captain Darst," he said.
While Darst is out on missions, Pieper remains on base, keeping patients on their way to recovery until the senior therapist returns. He assists the military health care providers with the proper orthopedic bracing and exercise care.
Recently, Darst had the opportunity to support "Operation Future Steps," a medical partnership with Iraqi physicians to help to identify necessary equipment for physically disabled children. No licensed Iraqi physical therapists are available in the region.
"We hope that through more collaborative partnerships," Darst said, "Iraqi medics and physicians will place more of an emphasis on this type of care."
Besides health care, U.S. forces also help to bring prosperity to Iraq. The 41st Fires Brigade's civil affairs team hosted an "opportunity fair" in Iraq's Wasit province Feb. 27 and 28. The event promoted business relationships, agriculture training programs, and showcased modern farming equipment and products.
"All of the agricultural representatives and companies that participated in the fair were very satisfied, because it gave them the opportunity to make contacts with [possible partners]," said Salam Scander, Wasit's director general of agriculture. "The government of Iraq's participation in the loans without interest to the farmers was a lot of help for them to buy supplies and equipment, so they can then plant their lands. All of these things will help the people."
Forty-three booths were filled with representatives, mostly from agricultural companies marketing various agricultural equipment and products, as well as five banks that offered no-fee loans with low interest rates for major purchases and nongovernmental organizations providing programs to individuals and businesses in the community.
There also were booths for Iraqi government and Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team programs to provide training to farmers to increase their productivity.
"Most of the participants ... are grateful for the participation and role of the PRT to empower the economic sector in Wasit," said Hazim Yassen, who worked with the Wasit PRT to coordinate the opportunity fair. "When the farmers come here and see all these products, they learn how to make an agreement or a joint venture with the participating companies to open up their capabilities and the implementation of these products in their crops and on their farms."
The fair was a greater success than initially imagined, Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Starling of the 41st Fires Brigade civil affairs team said.
"This event was unique, because it gave the people access to modern products and they could walk to the next booth and find a means to afford the products through credit and loans offered through the banks," Starling said. "It shows the steps to a modern society, giving these companies from different sectors the opportunity to create partnerships."
Some of the companies from Ramadi province were interested in conducting a similar fair in Fallujah, Yassen said. "This fair can also serve as a model for other provinces," he added.
Even as U.S. forces are improving life for Iraqis, they are seeing improvements in how they live while deployed there. Coalition forces now can shop for American goods in Basra with the March 2 opening of a new 5,000-square-foot Army and Air Force Exchange Service store.
The $1.7 million exchange, located on the Basra Contingency Operations Base, was welcomed by more than 100 servicemembers after months of anticipation.
"This is a great day for soldiers who have been anxiously looking forward to its arrival," Army Col. David Clark of 10th Mountain Division said prior to cutting the ceremonial ribbon. The new facility will offer clothing, electronics, food and other goods to troops in the area.
"It means a lot, having better access to food and supplies," Air Force Staff Sgt. Lester Cape, a member of the 557th RED HORSE Squadron, an engineer unit.
The new store is the cornerstone to an extended food court and morale area that will include a Pizza Hut, Burger King and Green Beans coffee house. Two Subway sandwich shops will remain in place.
(Compiled from Multinational Division Center news releases. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson of the 41st Fires Brigade and Army Capt. Kimberley Jennings of the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team contributed to this report.)