Rebuilding Iraq

Shiite schoolgirl in Bukan, Iraq
Some argue that the National Guard has been drained by the long deployments and disruption to civilian life of the soldiers within these units. The interesting thing is that the National Guard may be just the answer the U.S. is looking for in forging ahead quickly on reconstruction projects in Iraq.  By their very nature, the Guard units are replete with soldiers that bring a vast and varied skill set drawn from civilian careers in management, engineering, construction, and more.  I have seen their extremely successful results. 

In particular, the California National Guard's 1-185th Armor Battalion continues to execute security and civil military operations within the Babil Province in the Ash-Shumali District of Iraq. Like the majority of southern Iraq, the population, which is mostly of the Shiite religion and a multitude of tribes, is receptive to its partnership with the Coalition forces and their efforts to rebuild Iraq and provide a secure future for its citizens.  Their results serve as a model for future efforts in Iraq.

The overwhelming success and momentum of this 650-soldier battalion is due to its efforts in understanding and analyzing the needs of the civil government for the common good of the district rather than focusing on believed wants from the battalion's leadership. Community leaders from the district were brought together and made part of the decision making process in preparing for a plan of attack for rebuilding their community.

Upon receipt of the mission in the Ash-Shumali district the battalion developed an area summary and analysis that divided and focused their efforts in five major areas; canals, roads and transportation, water systems, electrical systems, and schools. The selection and categorizing of infrastructure projects was the result of collaboration with local mayors who have the responsibility to know each village family and their needs. Upon completion of the initial assessment, an engineering team comprised of local engineers was established to evaluate the projects. The skill set provided by the engineers brought added value to the projects due to their familiarity with construction standards, access to local markets and contractors for estimating, acceptance from the local residents, and additional employment for out-of-work and under worked skilled labor.

It's important to understand the importance of the five focal areas of infrastructure improvements and what they mean to the average Iraqi citizen.  I have provided a brief summary below.
Canals: Canals enhance the predominant industry, which is agriculture. The community relies on a complex network of irrigation canals to bring fresh water for crop growth and groundwater drainage canals to leach off the high water table and prevent saline contamination of topsoil. Prior to the coalition's arrival the canals were cleaned and serviced annually. These canals were neglected due the collapse of the Iraqi government.

Roads and Transportation: Within the battalion's area of operation (AO) is the coalition's main supply route: MSR Tampa. Besides the paved surface roads that lead in and out of main population centers the majority of the area is served by unpaved roads that parallel the canal networks. Although paved roads are in good to excellent condition, unpaved surfaces are dust strewn, rutted and marked by dangerously eroded coverts. Vehicle and foot bridges crossing the canal are insufficient to meet the population requirements.

Water System: The Ash-Shumali District is served by three water purification systems with a combined output of 90 cubic meters per hour. Only 40% of the population has access to fresh water. The antiquated distribution system is in poor condition and allows unregulated access. The district's water department has no materials to repair or execute preventive maintenance services on the site.

Electrical System: Electrification of the Ash-Shamali District is fairly widespread with over 80% of the population having access to the electric grid. An emergency distribution circuit to manage emergency critical loads within the town of Ash-Shumali is available and is not subject to periodic outages.

Schools: The area supports primary schools that educate approximately 300 students. Teacher to student ratio is 1:15. The conditions of schools are poor and require renovation of exterior and interior walls, replacement of the electric systems and drainage of inner courtyards.

The Results: Upon completion of the detailed area summary, the battalion further developed and executed an aggressive infrastructure repair and improvement plan that capitalized on funds made available under the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP). Projects focused on needed repairs and upgrades identified in the initial assessment. The result of this effort was resoundingly positive. In addition to employing local residents and concentrating spending at local villages, the projects were managed and completed in record time. The diverse expertise found in this National Guard battalion allowed the unit to develop multiple management tools to effectively track and facilitate project completion.

Here are just some examples of what these soldiers accomplished.

Canals: Major cleaning and clearing projects for drainage canals were executed in order to ensure reeds and organic build-up would not further choke water access. Water now runs unimpeded through the canals, reducing the soil encroachment of the arable soil. In addition, nine fresh water canal projects were completed that improved fresh water irrigation and drinking water availability.

Roads and Transportation: A total of nine vehicle and foot bridges were repaired or installed with in the district. These projects facilitated pedestrian vehicle and animal access. Bridges ranged between 12 meters and 22 meters. A total of four unpaved road projects were planned and completed in order to fix and upgrade roads that have deteriorated to almost impassable conditions during dry weather.

Electric System: Electricity systems were determined not to be a high priority item since the overall condition of the local distribution system was good. Two projects were completed that enhanced available back up power and emergency power circuits not affected by local power outages. The condition of the district's electricity system allowed the battalion to focus efforts to upgrade government facilities. Two highly visible and important projects were the repairs to the district animal hospital and post office/telecommunications office.

Water Systems: Repair and upgrade of the district's water distribution was focused on the repair of water lines, the water main and the water plant. A total of four projects were completed, which improved the flow of water in already existing systems. Farmers and local residents now had access to needed water to support their livelihood and needs.

Schools: Six different fully functional primary schools were identified to be upgraded in the unit's initial assessment. The upgrades for the schools are prioritized for future funding. One school that I visited in the village of Bahkan was completely refurbished and in session. Students were provided and taught in an environment conducive to quality learning.

To my amazement, the cost of these projects was a mere $271,000. These upgrades and projects have stimulated the Iraqis to be productive and take advantage of the opportunities that are present.  Clearly, the skill set within the California National Guard's 1-185th Armor was particularly suited to this task of reconstruction.  Their success serves as a model for future projects in cities all across Iraq.

Note: Special thanks to Colonel Jeffrey Russell , Lieutenant Colonel James Sayers (Commander, TF 1-185), Command Sergeant Major Anthony G. Hines and First Lieutenant Thomas Hernandez for making this information possible.