A half dozen members of the 36th Engineer Group, accompanied by Civil Affairs officers, an interpreter, and Col. Harry Warren, the commander of the 86th Combat Surgical Hospital, went into Nasiriyah on Friday to search for “anything we could use,” said Capt. Loyd Beal, the group’s supply officer. “Anything” included wood, electrical equipment and office supplies.
Nasiriyah straddles the Euphrates River in south-central Iraq near LSA Adder. The city has a population of 500,000, according to Maj. John Esposito, intelligence officer for the 36th.
As we approached the city the gray, dust-blown landscape we had been living in gave way to a green, oasis-like area with palm trees, green grasses and water.
The Marines occupy Nasiriyah, maintaining several compounds throughout the city.
The first stop was one of these compounds.
Whenever a convoy stops, the soldiers get out of the vehicles and stand, their backs to the vehicles and weapons at the ready, looking for possible danger.
Marine guards walked up and down the sidewalk trying to keep people from stopping, but the unit’s four Army Humvees and the dozen soldiers guarding them turned into an attraction for the Iraqis.
When I brought out my camera and digital video camcorder most Iraqis passing by who were under the age of 20 asked me to take their picture.
We drew a crowd.
The unit stood there for the better part of half an hour smiling, waving hello, taking pictures and turning down sales offers of cartons of cigarettes.
The crowd got so large and so distracting that an officer came over to me at one point and told me to “put those cameras away.”
We drove around the city, stopping four more times, once again at the Marine compound, once at the hospital so Warren could “see it, inspect it, meet the guys” Beal said, and twice on city streets as the supply officers talked with Iraqi businessmen.
As we drove around we noticed that many people waved to us, smiled or gave a thumbs up.
Iraqi children ran along our vehicle waving and yelling “Hello, Mister” as long as they could keep up with our Humvees.