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Civil affairs team helps reconstruct pipeline, distribute food

Army News Service

Release Date: 6/19/2003

By Spc. Ryan Smith June 19, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Army News Service, June 19, 2003) -- The 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Danbury, Conn., is rebuilding sewer lines in a run down part of the city, and providing food for a neglected group of people.

"Soccer fields and swimming pools are not important in Iraq," said Maj. Joseph Charles Sasso. "When people have clean water to drink, gas and electricity, and can feel secure out in the streets, then we can worry about luxuries."

One tactical support team in the battalion commanded by Sasso, TST-4, is focusing on operations involving reconstruction and public-safety mission that will legitimize the American presence in Baghdad, said Sasso, the team's commander.

"[Rebuilding] infrastructure and police and fire are the keys to success," he said. The pipe-building mission is a case in point, said Sasso.

During the pipe-building missions the soldiers went to a site in Al Thawra, one of Baghdad's poorest areas and home to nearly 2 million people. Children play in streets around pools of raw sewage. Its former name is Saddam City, Sasso said.

The infrastructure of the area -- the power lines, sewage pipes, water lines and roads are in bad shape either because of poor workmanship or neglect during Saddam's regime.

Sassos' team made a deal with a local general contractor, Kasim Taher Naser, to replace the worn-out pipes that exist in the area.

A contractor that Sasso is working with has promised to replace the lines according to the quality of American engineering standards.

Sasso and his team regularly checks on projects like these to ensure that the work is moving along smoothly, he said.

While assessing the progress of the project, and performing a quality-control check, the unit also has the opportunity to address other issues that citizens of the area have.

Working with an interpreter, Sasso spoke to people with concerns ranging from looters to water and electricity shortages.

"We serve as a nucleus for people to grieve or look for resolution," Sasso said.

The problems Iraq faces now are the residual effect of years of oppression and war. "Every month we make significant strides."

"We need to focus our energies on the important few, and put aside the trivial many," he said.

While the question of electricity, water and sewage are being addressed, the 411th is also helping some citizens eat.

Another team from the 411th CA Battalion recently delivered approximately 1,000 meals to displaced families living in the former Al-Rashid military complex, said Sgt. David Glass, a civil affairs specialist from the 411th.

Some Iraqi families have been displaced because of economic reasons, while others have been forced to flee their homes because of the war, Glass said.

The civil affairs soldiers delivered humanitarian rations to several locations where these families are staying, places where pools of raw sewage form in the streets, and piles of garbage collect where children run around barefoot.

Though delivering these meals is a relatively small contribution to a city with so many needy people, the civil affairs soldiers understand that for many, anything helps.

"If we can help them through one more day," Glass said, "then it will be worth it."

"I only wish there was more food to give out," he said. "If I could do my whole tour giving out food, I would."

(Editor's note: Spc. Ryan Smith is a journalist with the 372nd MPAD in Iraq)

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