By Army Capt. Maggie White
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 18, 2009 - Iraqi National Police, working with Pennsylvania National Guardsmen, distributed more than five truckloads of food and household supplies to needy women in the Taji area, north of Baghdad, May 16.
Women lined up with their children to receive food donated by the United Nations that was made available to them at the Taji Council building. Many of them said they had lost husbands in the war and have been struggling to provide for their young children.
Soldiers of the Pennsylvania Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team discovered the food in a warehouse here when the unit took over operations in February. Civil affairs soldiers and members of embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 5, also based here, worked with the police to make the food available to needy women and children.
Women patiently lined up for several hours to receive their share of food and goods, which included rice, lentils, diapers, canned goods, and household cleaning supplies. Forty-five families received food, with enough left over for another 50.
Sosun al-Ergaz, president of Services for Women and Children of the Taji Area, inspected all of the food before distributing it to ensure that everything was in good condition. She gently called the women forward and took down their names as they piled everything into large sacks to carry home.
"I feel good about this, to help a lady whose husband has died get food for her family," Ergaz said. "Islam teaches us to help others, and it was the way I was brought up."
Iraqi National Police worked with Taji officials to coordinate the distribution. Army Capt. Maria Claus, a 56th SBCT soldier who works with the Iraq security forces, said this operation set a good precedent for the people of Taji.
"The people here see that they are working hard to take care of the [neighborhood] and the people of Iraq," she said.
Army Maj. James Fluck, the brigade's civil affairs officer, said he hopes the project will be the first of many that help the citizens of Taji. He stressed that the role of the civil affairs soldiers and PRT members is to mentor the Iraqi officials so they can operate independently.
"We want to help the national police with civil affairs and humanitarian aid training; it's a good partnership between us and them" he said.
(Army Capt. Maggie White serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)