FOB LOYALTY, Iraq, August 14, 2006 - Multi-National Division - Baghdad soldiers from 4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, completed several beautification and improvements projects in Zafaraniya and the area outside of FOB Loyalty were throughout the month of July.
The projects included five playgrounds, two soccer fields, a soccer park and a sewing co-op.
"I have the best job. I get to interact with local leaders and people in these neighborhoods," said CPT Shelia Matthews, civil military operations officer and command emergency response program coordinator, 4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment.
"I have seen such an improvement with the Neighborhood Advisory Council members. I participate in weekly meetings with local leaders to discuss long-term and short-term projects. In the beginning we would have to provide the agenda for these meetings, now they already have an agenda waiting," said CPT Raymond Johnson, commander, Battery A (? Battery B), 4th Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment.
Together they have cleaned up these areas dramatically but they still need our help, said Johnson.
Johnson's interaction with the leaders takes place at the weekly meetings, but his battery spends the majority of its time patrolling the neighborhoods and interacting with the local people. When they are out, the soldiers not only ask security questions but also questions pertaining to the beautification of their neighborhoods.
In these meetings the council members propose projects after the meetings, Johnson said he would go to Matthews, who would decide if we were able to do them.
The difference between the soccer field and soccer park was not only the size but that the soccer park comes with changing rooms and bleachers, said Matthews.
The sewing co-op was the least expensive project, but probably the most beneficial of them all. The items provided for the project included five sewing machines and materials.
One of the Sindabold NAC members, a woman, opened up her home to the women so they could come there and work using the equipment without having to pay. This enabled them to sew, make items and sell them, which provided them an opportunity to earn an income for themselves and their family.
Not only are the projects being brought up by battery commanders, they are also being brought up by the soldiers themselves.
SSG Christian Walters, QRF platoon sergeant, Company G, who spends a lot of time in the neighborhood outside of the FOB, said the local residents are very receptive to him and his soldiers.
"We patrol the area frequently, and they have something like a neighborhood watch set up. They inform us if there has been anything suspicious going on," said Walters.
The soldiers and Walters had wanted to do something nice for the children in the neighborhood. They had noticed an area that had been a soccer field but it was not level so every time it rained, it would flood and the children would have to wait weeks before they could play, said Walters.
"We didn't know how projects worked, so we were going to get together and donate money so we could have one built," said Walters.
When he approached Matthews, he said she told the soldiers they didn't have to pay for anything.
He said he gave her the coordinates to the area, and with that information, the local contractors began the project. Although he would have liked to have been present when the project was completed, he was home on leave.
He said he believes that when he and his soldiers go through the neighborhood, the children now have a better understanding of why he and his soldiers are there.
"Many people in this area are just above middle class," he said. "It looks like prior to the war they were doing okay for themselves, and during the war, you could tell they lost stuff, but they take care of what they have. They are really good about trash and keeping the area clean."
"I know we are trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, but I think the adults are set in their ways and beliefs. The children are the future," he added.
4th BCT has spent approximately $2 million on projects
since coming to east Baghdad and will continue to help in the
building of a new and improved city.