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thedrifter
02-22-09, 08:05 AM
Stamford native helps Iraqi city build a new media
By Christina Hennessy
Staff Writer
Posted: 02/22/2009 07:22:18 AM EST

The work of a Marines reserve infantry unit stationed in Iraq is proving that community news is an important commodity no matter where that community is.

In the city of Rutbah, in western Iraq, that means finding out about the latest local soccer team match, listening to the city council's meetings, hearing an announcement of a special occasion broadcast over the local radio station or having a way to access emergency announcements from municipal officials.

"This mission is quite different from conventional warfare," writes Capt. Timothy Leonard, a Stamford native who is a member of the Reserve Marines of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. He is stationed at Camp Korean Village in the Al Anbar Province and responded to questions via e-mail.

He and others in the unit have been using their communications know-how to help local officials rebuild the technological infrastructure so it can sustain a free, monthly newsletter, Web site and radio station. It has allowed this relatively remote city of 20,000 near the Jordanian and Syrian borders to enter the modern media era. Where residents once primarily received news by limited satellite television and word of mouth, they now have the means to get accurate news about their neighborhood and beyond.

Capt. Paul Greenberg, public affairs officer for the battalion, notes that the people living in Rutbah appear to appreciate the Marines' efforts to improve conditions.

"We have developed an excellent rapport with the local public officials over the past five months," he writes. "We (Marines and U.S. State Department) are working with the government of Iraq to help filter money down from Baghdad to improve conditions in the city."


Leonard, 30, who lives in Stamford's Glenbrook section with his wife and two children, has been working the past four months on this project with other members of his team. He arrived in Iraq in September and expects his deployment will be over by the spring.

He says the local reaction has been positive.

"They are very happy to receive local news from an Iraqi source," he says of the city's residents.

He says there appears to be a large number of people who tune in to the radio station, which takes requests from listeners and announces special occasions.

"One Iraqi man even came in to the radio station to announce his wedding," Leonard says.

It also appears to have led to a greater transparency in the local government, since the city council broadcasts its weekly meeting live over the radio. With diverse programming, citizens can hear a mix of music, news, religious programming and interviews with the city's leaders, Leonard says.

A mutual funds salesman for Legg Mason, Leonard also has an extensive background in communications, having earned a master's degree in computer information systems from Boston University and having graduated from the Marine Corps' Communications Information Systems Officers Course. He says he is just one of many people in the reserve battalion who would be considered communication specialists.

Members of the unit worked with the council's media committee, he says, to focus on issues such as generating enough power and training on Web design. Since it is a reserve unit, Leonard says the members have acquired skills in other professions, meaning he had electricians and webmasters, for example, to call upon to help with the project.

The unit also was assisted by a number of Rutbah residents and other local civilians, Leonard and Greenberg say. One such person is a translator, Tamer Talal Hammad, who first became friends with Greenberg in October when Greenberg was studying Arabic with one of Hammad's roommates.

Given Hammad's telecommunications background, Greenberg says he introduced him to Leonard. In a story Greenberg wrote about the project, he reports that Hammad was particularly helpful in establishing the radio station. Later in that report, Greenberg notes that the station doesn't operate 24 hours a day because of sporadic power outages, but that the U.S. State Department recently helped fund an electric generator.

Leonard is confident that the technical support and training will be a strong foundation for continued growth.

"We have been very careful not to overstep our bounds and to provide advisement, technical support and training," he writes. "Since we have focused on sustainability and we have been very fortunate that our Iraqi counterparts are so devoted to providing mass media outlets to Rutbah, I believe that the radio station, Web site and newsletter will be successful long after the Marines leave Rutbah and Al Anbar Province."

-- Staff Writer Christina Hennessy can be reached at christina.hennessy@scni.com or 964-2241.

Ellie