At an Iraqi army base in Sadr City, 302 civil project workers readied themselves and put on fresh clothes for their monthly pay day, May 28.
The project, funded by 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, paid out about $100,000 to the local national workers of the Jamilla neighborhood, here, said Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Blankenship, from San Antonio, Fla. Each CPW earns about $300 a month.
“It’s a win-win situation,” continued Blankenship, an infantryman and operations noncommissioned officer assigned to the battalion’s Joint Operations Cell. “We’re providing jobs for local nationals and we’re also having them clean up their own areas while at the same time, we’re getting tips and leads.”
The CPW clean up their neighborhoods and help out with security by functioning as a neighborhood watch, explained Sgt. 1st Class Marc Dixon, a tanker platoon sergeant, assigned to Company B, 2nd Bn., 5th Cav. Regt., 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
“To help coalition forces, they man various checkpoints throughout their neighborhoods, or muhallas,” said Dixon, from Killeen, Texas. “As they man their checkpoints they are the eyes and ears for Coalition forces. When we conduct patrols throughout the day or night, we stop off at the checkpoints and they’ll inform us if there’s any suspicious activity and they’ll also let their local Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police know if there’s anything suspicious going on.”
According to Dixon, the CPW program has been a success and one of the main reasons there has been a drastic decrease in violence in the area.
“It keeps [the locals] doing something positive for their community, for themselves and for their families,” said Dixon as his B Co. Soldiers pulled security for the pay day event. “If we offer them good jobs, it keeps them off the streets, plus it lets them see us, as Americans, not being the bad guys. That we’re in their country trying to help them earn that respect and responsibility while we’re here.”
A table was set up and manned by a local sheik and Soldiers as the Iraqi workers queued up outside with their identification cards waiting to be paid for the month.
“We worked hard and earned the money by helping security and helping clean the community up,” said Shaykh Mohammed Ali Mutar, a contracting officer for the local CPW. The contracting officer supplies the CPW workers with food while on guard and other equipment they need to perform their duties, said Blankenship.
According to Mohammed, during the past month, the vigilant workers have reported on suspicious people, reported improvised explosive devices, found caches and reported on high-value targets.
“If they’re not watching out for the neighborhood, they’re cleaning up, picking up trash and making sure their area is squared away,” said a charismatic Dixon. He also commented on the large improvements his Soldiers have seen in the area regarding litter.
“It gives them responsibility,” continued Dixon. “Instead of carrying a weapon … the broom symbolizes that right now, it’s time to clean up their areas … to show their neighbors it’s time to pick up the community and raise ourselves back up to where we were.”
“I’m not saying that these guys are perfect,” explained Blankenship. “But I’ll tell you, the majority of them want to help, they want to be there to help you and they want to be right beside us on patrol if they could.”
However, these local nationals have opted to perform neighborhood security in a more peaceful capacity.
“Instead of carrying weapons,” said Blankenship. “They’re manned with brooms and shovels.”
But, those aren’t their only tools, these CPW workers are also armed with their eyes and ears and now, their pride.
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell