FORWARD OPERATING BASE BAKER, Iraq -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and local Iraqi citizens are working industriously in An Najaf, Iraq, during the reconstruction effort continued after fighting in the city ceased Aug. 28.
The MEU has a 4.8 million dollar budget this quarter under the Commander's Emergency Response Program and is using it to rebuild short-term goals. The Project Contractor's Office, an immense, nationwide organization, also plans to rebuild and construct major projects such as hospitals, schools and major infrastructure.
"Right now we're looking for the low hanging fruit," said Maj. Amber M. Lehning, civil affairs officer, Command Element, 11th MEU (SOC). "We're funding the reconstruction on the places that can be finished quickly, inexpensively and have the biggest impact."
The focus of effort right now are hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, local Iraqi police stations and many other critical institutions. Some of the places, crucial to providing vital services to the citizens of Najaf were frequently used by Sadr's Muqtada Militia as bases of operations during the fighting. Many of them now need to be rebuilt.
One of the more immediate impacts on the community is having the schools ready for the children.
"The school year starts the first week of October, and if we get it fixed now they will be open in time for school," Lehning said.
These buildings would not have been left out of the long-term national plan, but using the CERP they can be mended quickly for the citizens' use.
"We take a look at the framework of where (PCO) plans to spend their money, and we look for gaps that can be filled now for impact on the community," Lehning said.
The MEU's goal is to bring life back to normal for the citizens of Najaf now that the fighting is over.
"I want the citizens of this historic city to return to a peaceful life now that the conflict is resolved, and I intend to help them feel pride in their city," said Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU (SOC).
Funding goes to local contractors who will be the ones to rebuild their own city. They are grateful for the chance to earn money and provide for their families.
"This is very good for us," said a local Iraqi contracted to work on a school in Najaf. "It will help us to better the city all around."
The reconstruction plan encompasses more than just revamping the appearance and workings of the city, it also provides jobs and experience to the local community.
"It would be easy to get (a non local company) to go out and do the work, but this employs the Iraqis," Lehning said. "As more contractors get experience they will get more jobs and it will help their economy."
Although the bulk of the work is being done now, it was an ongoing project even during the battle in Najaf. In one instance, Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU (SOC), raided a schoolhouse Sadr's militia was fortifying. Soldiers of Company B, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, currently attached to the 11th MEU (SOC), were out there just a couple days later evaluating the damage caused during the raid, and how the MEU could help with repairs.
"These guys were just a couple blocks away from the fighting trying to assess the damages, and they've been doing a great job," Lehning said.
After all the efforts by coalition forces, the MEU is looking forward to the final goal when the city is rebuilt and the Iraqis walk the streets in peace.
"We want to help rebuild the lives and homes of the citizens of Najaf," Haslam said. "It's very important that we give back to them what was taken by Anti-Iraqi Forces."