Marines distribute food to Nigerien poor

TAHOUA, Niger — Nigerien children watch as Marines from 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment pass out food to the citizens here March 8, 2006. The Marines are in Niger as part of Shared Accord 2006, a U.S. European Command exercise that brings humanitarian aid to Niger while allowing bilateral U.S. and Nigerien counterterrorism training. (Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Enrique Saenz)

TAHOUA, Niger — Traveling through the crowded, sandy streets here most people would be reminded of the Disney animated film Aladdin.

Street vendors, blacksmiths and potential customers trying to haggle and barter with merchants down alleyways are found throughout the town. To some, it may seem like a scene taken directly from the movie.

But for the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, it seemed like an opportunity to help the citizens of a third-world country in need.

The Marines are in Niger as part of Shared Accord 06, a U.S. European Command exercise designed to bring humanitarian aid to the country while allowing an opportunity to train with Nigerien forces.

"[Shared Accord] is a great opportunity to take a few minutes a day and make a difference, no matter how small," said Marine Sgt. Adam Love, squad leader. "During an escort mission guarding our chaplain, we stopped to handout [the contents] of a [Meal, Ready-to-Eat] package to a group of people in town."

After more townspeople caught wind of the free goodies being passed out by the Marines, a large crowd came to catch a glimpse of the visiting Americans while seeing what they had to offer.

"They were starving," said Marine Cpl. Dan McCabe, a rifleman. "Mothers were trying to get food for themselves ahead of their kids, people almost trampled over kids. It was bad. People were fighting over a half-pack of crackers."

Even though the Marines were told Niger was one of the poorest countries in the world, the plight of the Nigerien people didn't strike a chord with the Marines until they were able to see it first hand, Love said.

"I wish we could spend more time and help here," Love said. He and the rest of the Marines are completing their annual training, which usually lasts between 14 and 17 days. "Now that I see how much good could be done here, I'd look forward to doing a year tour here, if it were possible."

But even during goodwill missions, the Marines have to remain aware of possible security risks.

"We gave food and candy to the Nigeriens, but we always remember that security comes first," Love said. "It's not just for our good, but for [the Nigeriens] good, too.

"For example, what kids like to do is climb on the sides of the Humvee for a better chance at getting one of the [food] packets we throw out," he described. "Not only does that restrict our vision, to see incoming threats around us, but if we were to pull out of the area, we'd hurt them and maybe even run some of them over."

Security is the most important part of a mission, especially humanitarian ones, Love said.

The Marines are scheduled to be in Niger until about mid-March, when their annual training ends.

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