United States Forces - Iraq Blog

Troops harvest dates, cultivate bonds

BAGHDAD — U.S. Soldiers here reached out to help their Iraqi neighbors harvesting in a date palm farm near East Rashid Monday, significant, as the date is traditionally the first piece of food Muslims eat to end daily fasting during their holy month of Ramadan.

“I appreciate the Soldiers collecting, delivering and transporting the dates for the Iraqi people and all the Muslims when they break their fasting,” said Dr. Muayad Hamad, the owner of the date farm. “This is very much appreciated because if anyone [is given] one piece of date to break his fasting, it is something big.”

Capt. Jonathan Heist, commander of A Troop, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and a Canton, Ohio, native, said before the start of the war Iraq was known for its dates—Iraq’s second biggest export just behind oil at the time.

Hamad grew up on this date farm, owned by his family for almost 100 years. The farm has suffered in recent years because of combat in Iraq, but that is something the Americans hope to change with the help of the Iraqis.

“We are trying to show that American forces are here to assist in [building Iraq’s economy],” Heist said. “We are partners with the Iraqi people, we want them to return and surpass the success that they used to have.”

The platoon that helped Hamad harvest dates is an example of that cooperation. Three Iraqi National Police officers are embedded in the platoon, doing everything the American Soldiers do.

“I am so happy for this because we work as one family here to help Iraqis and support people here,” said Sgt. Kareen, an NP official.

Advising the Iraqis as they stand on their own is part of the Operation New Dawn mission, and U.S. Soldiers are adapting to their new role.

“It definitely builds trust and confidence between the people and Iraqi Security Forces, to see them out there with us jointly, and it’s good fun doing something other than your standard patrols,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Brooks, a cavalry scout with A Troop, 5th Sqdn.7th, Cav. Regt., and Hinesville, Ga., native.

Brooks said helping out the local community brings purpose to what is going on in Iraq, and he feels like what they did at the date farm was beneficial to all.

Heist said being able to focus on activities that build and lend a helping hand is very satisfying.

Ensuring date farms and other possible areas of employment remain stable will also help build the economy here, he said.