Sunday, February 17, 2008

Council Brings Significant Change to Salman Pak

Leaders of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, sit with three members of the former Salman Pak Council, July 12.

Capt. William Clark, from Prairie Du Chien, Wis., commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, sits at the head of the room during a meeting with members of the acting Salman Pak council in August.

Twenty members of the Salman Pak council meet to discuss ways to rebuild and improve the city, Feb. 11.

Story by Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Leaders of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment attended a Salman Pak council meeting, Feb. 11, with 20 members of the acting council to discuss ways to rebuild and improve Salman Pak.

“There has been no legitimate council in Salman Pak since 2005,” explained Capt. Matthew Givens, from Columbus, Ga., projects officer for 1-15 Inf. Regt. “In June and July we were meeting with three members of the old council but the meetings were very basic. We talked about what was going on in the city.”

Givens explained Salman Pak officials did not participate in the 2005 council elections due to security issues. Because of this, they were no longer recognized as an official council by the government of Iraq.

When Givens and leaders of the 1-15 Inf. Regt. met with the three members of the former council, their main concerns were freedom of movement within the city, and re-establishing the area’s public services and organizations.

During that time, the local National Police had no place to live and work so they had no choice but to occupy schools, hospitals, libraries and other municipal buildings in Salman Pak, Givens said. This caused problems because the structures could not open for public use.

“Every building they occupied became a target,” Givens said, “not because of the building itself, but because the insurgents were targeting the National Police.”

The three members met with Givens until last September when one of the members was killed. The message from the insurgency was, “you’ll be next,” Givens said.

Although it was a tragic event, Givens believes the outcome was positive.

“Out of that, the old chairman stepped up,” he said. “He took charge and he’s been working with us ever since. He is the primary reason we have this many people working with us now. He kept this going in a dark time and brought it back to life.”

Currently, 20 Salman Pak leaders are members of the area council. Since the Sons of Iraq took over security, Givens said Salman Pak and the surrounding areas are safe.

Because security has improved in Salman Pak, Givens said council members are able to primarily focus on central services.

“Things are starting to happen on their own without us doing anything,” Givens said.

The GoI is already supporting the city. Givens explained fuel stations are now receiving fuel shipments and the local bank has reopened and is receiving shipments of money.

“That’s why all the shops are open again,” Givens said. “There was no paper money in the city before because all the old paper money had been used so much it was falling apart. The council has returned to Salman Pak and with them they bring services to help the city grow.”

The council is still not official; however, Givens said the GoI will hold a Salman Pak council election in the near future.

“They are standing on one leg now,” he said. “After they get elected, established and supported by the government, they will continue to move forward.”

The 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.

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