Soldiers in Iraq focus on restoring infrastructure

By Army Sgt. David Hodge
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq, Nov. 6, 2008 - Although capturing terrorists and finding weapon caches in Iraq make headlines, Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team's Infrastructure Coordination Element consider restoring essential services and key infrastructure elements to the citizens of Baghdad as the real victories in the war on terror.

The ICE team coordinates issues ranging from brainstorming for a contract to the final inspections of multi-million dollar construction projects between Iraqi and coalition officials, said Army Maj. Tom Clark, ICE chief, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion.

Restoration begins and ends with coordination from a small team of soldiers, contractors and Iraqi civilians. "We make sure the construction in sector is done to standard," Clark added.

Clark and his team of soldiers and civilians work with officials from the Iraqi government and the district council in southern Baghdad's Rashid district.

Six Iraqi quality-assurance and quality-control inspectors help the ICE team ensure contracts are completed to standard by holding local contractors accountable for the work produced.

Army Spc. Gregory Chism, a fueler working as a clerk for the ICE, said he likes the team environment. "Everybody is really easy to get along with," he said. Chism, who deployed to Iraq as an infantryman with the Army National Guard in 2005, said his work now is much different.

"Working for the ICE team feels like I am working for a purpose," the native of Tupelo, Miss., said. "It feels like I'm making a big difference."

Bilingual, bicultural advisors also work with the ICE team and provide technical expertise, said Clark, who calls Copperas Cove, Texas, his home, but was born and raised in Singapore.

"The BBAs are a natural bridge between us and the Iraqis," Clark explained. They understand the Iraqi culture and how to negotiate with the local people, he explained.

"Our mission is very important, because we are asked to be good stewards of the American taxpayer's dollars as far as construction and initiatives in the operational environment," explained Clark, a 1994 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., who has years of engineering experience in underdeveloped countries. "I'm really proud of my team. They have performed very well."

One of the major projects the team has coordinated is the Airport Road Renovation Project, a multi-million dollar highway reconstruction effort paid for by the Iraqi government. As Iraq starts to open up again, it will open its doors to foreign investors, Clark said.

Another major breakthrough for the citizens of Rashid is the opening of a regional office for the Ministry of Labor Social Affairs in the Hayy Jihad community. "There is a great need for providing support for the unemployed, widows, orphans and people who are on the fringes of society," Clark explained. The Iraqi government is looking to extend that support through a headquarters in southern Baghdad, he added.

Over the summer, the ICE team worked to get Rashid schools ready for the start of the school year. Clark said he believes when Iraqi people see the neighborhood schools in better condition, they understand the genuine concern coalition forces have toward Iraq and its people.

ICE team soldiers encourage local leaders to set goals and develop their own systems, Army Master Sgt. Jason Staub, ICE noncommissioned officer in charge, said.

"As we work with the Iraqi leadership, we make suggestions to them on how to manage ongoing projects and planning for future projects," the New Cumberland, Pa., native said.

As Iraq's government and security forces continue to gain more control of Rashid, Clark said, he and his team must prepare to decrease their involvement in operations.

"Basically, we are working with our counterparts to ensure that when we leave Iraq, they are able to pick up where we leave off," he said. "There is a lot of work to do. Some departments are not quite manned for the synchronization piece, but they are steadily working on it."

Iraq's infrastructure was neglected during Saddam Hussein's regime, Clark said, and the ICE Team is working to help the Iraqi people turn that situation around.

"It is heartening to see Iraqi patriots out there who put their lives at risk when things are bad in order to serve their own people," he said.

(Army Sgt. David Hodge serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)