A group of local Army Civil Affairs Reservists assigned to the war-torn city of Fallujah in Iraq will be awarded one of the military’s highest honors this weekend, the Valorous Unit Award. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, the citizen-soldiers say they’re honored but have mixed feelings about their time in Iraq.
Jude Griggs, who grew up in Alvin and is now a fraud investigator with Washington Mutual in Webster, was one of about 150 reservists assigned to the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Abilene in 2003. Civil affairs soldiers act as liaisons between the military and the local government in city’s where they’re deployed, in this case Fallujah in the Al Anbar province west of Baghdad. Griggs was a member of a smaller group called “Team Traveler.”
“There were only five or six of us at the time and we would actually go out in town and just basically go around town shaking hands and getting people to put a face to what’s going on so that they would know that we’re not all here to just point guns in everybody’s face, we’re actually here to go a good job and we want to get to know people and help them out.”
After initially being welcomed by the locals, Griggs says the battalion slowly began to sense more hostility as the insurgency took hold in Fallujah. Despite building new schools and rebuilding hospitals and clinics, the relationship gradually soured. Griggs recalls a time when soldiers purchased grass and installed a soccer field for local kids, along with about 100 soccer balls.
“When we were finished that night somebody came and looted the soccer field, took every blade of grass. All the bigger boys would come around and take the soccer balls from the little boys. That’s just a small scenario. It would happen like that over and over again. We seemed to try to do something good and then next thing we know, somebody’s destroying it.”
David Deore grew up in Galveston County and is now a police officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He was part of the same civil affairs unit that spent a year in Fallujah. Deore recalls brief moments of progress.
“We rebuilt the power plant and brought in new generators for the city to get it going. Then a week later you find out that the generators were blown-up. It’s like, man, what are we doing this for? I guess mainly for the kids, actually, to see the kids doing a lot better and especially their school system, so it does feel worthwhile while we’re doing out job.”
The Army’s 490th Civil Affairs Battalion will receive the Valorous Unit Award Saturday at a ceremony in Abilene. Again, Jude Griggs.
“I appreciate that they are recognizing us, but there again also, I didn’t do it for a medal. I know no one on my team did if for a medal. They would have done it with or without the medal or with any accolades at all.”
Since Griggs and Deore spent time there, Fallujah has become a hot spot for insurgency, with many of the mosques in the city serving as fighting positions for rebels.