By Navy Lt. j.g. Christopher Deluzio
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 20, 2009 - Southern Iraq's Muthanna province is a vast area, sparsely populated and dominated by wide expanses of desert. Life here remains much the same as it has for centuries. Bedouin tribes herd camels while subsistence farmers scratch out a living in the harsh landscape. The people of Muthanna are particularly hard-hit by geography, living near the end of river flows obstructed further north by dams built under Saddam Hussein's regime and never restored to their former glory. Access to clean water, reliable power and health care are in short supply.
But through the combined efforts of the provincial government, the U.S. State Department-led provincial reconstruction team and soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Pathfinder, the basic needs of Muthanna residents now are slowly being met.
Task Force Pathfinder incorporates civilian experts, engineers and civil affairs units as it works hand-in-hand with provincial reconstruction teams to develop projects and training programs to help the Iraqis deliver critical services to their people. In Muthanna, the focus has been providing essential services.
Over the past several months, the Pathfinders have sponsored more than 30 projects in Muthanna province through the Commander's Emergency Response Program. More than half focused on providing water and power to impoverished villages.
"These programs serve two purposes. First, they reduce the number of waterborne diseases we are seeing among the children," said Army Lt. Col. Michael Eastman, Task Force Pathfinder commander. "Second, by helping the elected Iraqi officials deliver basic needs to their people, we reduce the incentive of dissatisfied [local residents] to oppose both American and Iraqi forces in the area."
Muthanna residents have welcomed the change. In areas where life was a daily struggle for existence, clean water now is available both for drinking and for irrigating once-dry fields.
"Getting out among the people has been a great experience," said Army Sgt. Hugh Gunnerson, from Cannonsburg, Pa. "We can see the benefit of our mission in Iraq when people have something Americans sometimes take for granted, like clean water to drink."
While this mission is different from what most of these artillerymen from Fort Bliss, Texas, expected to perform, they have adapted extremely well. Much remains to be done in Muthanna, but Iraqis, provincial reconstruction team members and Task Force Pathfinder soldiers agree progress is being made in southern Iraq.
(Navy Lt. j.g. Christopher Deluzio serves with the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)