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Airman and Soldiers bridge gaps among themselves and Iraqis

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Craig Lifton
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
A fence, a building and new relationships were assembled this month by a Soldier, an Airman and a few Iraqi contractors hoping to improve conditions for Iraqis visiting the installation here.

Army Chief Warrant Officer David Hooker and Air Force Maj. William Patience hired local workers to help them construct a $250,000 addition to the East Entry Control Point here, improving security for the base and the comfort of individuals who enter it.

When Hooker took over as the officer in charge of force protection at the East ECP in November 2007, he was tasked by his commander to pick up where their predecessor, the 1/9 Field Artillery 3rd1Infantry Division1from Ft. Stewart, Ga., left off restructuring the ECP. When he started the assignment, the electronic systems maintance technician saw an opportunity to improve life for visiting Iraqis, who enter the base to work, conduct business or seek medical assistance but needed a security fence upgrade as well as better amenities for visitors.

"It was during the cold months when the problem stood out," said Hooker, who is with the 557th Maintance Company from Fort Irwin, Calif. 

"Visitors would have to sit outside and wait, and in the winter it's cold, rainy and muddy."

Before Hooker deployed, he and his unit attended training on counter insurgency strategies. They learned that to prevail, they had to find out what the local nationals needed and give it to them.

"If you can make them happy, it can help quell the violence in the area," said Hooker, a native of Columbus, Ohio. "So if we get them inside with heat in the winter and air conditioning during the summer while they are waiting, they'll be more comfortable." 

As he met the people coming into Balad, Hooker learned that many of the people in the local village were displaced by insurgents and moved here for safety and employment.

Hooker drafted a proposal to build an indoor waiting area and took it to the contracting office. He planned to expedite the process by completing the waiting area himself and soon made contact with some of the local Iraqis and made arrangements to procure building supplies.

Throughout the summer the Air Force had prepared to take over primary responsibilities here for Base Operating Support-Integration. Under BOS-I, 90 percent of the life-support of the base, along with construction responsibilities, would transfer from the Army  to the Air Force. As a result, Patience, 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Facility Engineering Detachment civil engineer, met Hooker and learned about the construction contract request he had made.

On a site visit, Patience saw the same problems for visitors and security that Hooker did and wanted to improve the conditions.

"It wasn't just about getting the fence done or building a waiting area," said Patience, a reservist with the 904th Civil Engineer Flight, March Air Reserve Base, Calif. "It was about building relationships."

FED combat engineers are performing design, construction management, surveying and master planning on bases the width and breadth of Iraq. With combat skills training, the engineers are able to work outside of the wire. The FED works under the guidance to conduct operations with and through Iraqi partners.

"I received great technical support from our team of engineers and craftsmen," Patience said.

A nearby Iraqi company was selected and the work began. Using an Iraqi company helped bring money to the local economy and the workers, Patience said.

Construction ran into a few obstacles. For example, there were a few instances of hostile attacks, some of which allegedly came from the Iraqi contractor's competitors, who had been upset at losing the bid.

Patience was responsible for the construction. He shed the Air Force stereotype of staying within the secure confines of the base and donned his body armor and helmet to go outside the wire to monitor the work being done.

Another problem Patience faced was the language barrier. To overcome the obstacle, he first became very good at drawing pictures. Soon, Patience decided to take the next step by learning basic Arabic words and eventually some of the language, so he could improve the communication.

After 30 days, 2,200 feet of fence, 212 fence posts, 430 square feet of mixed cement and 40 seats, the new badging office -- with a climate controlled waiting room -- was completed.

"We are very grateful that the U.S. Military built the room to take care of us," said a local sheik that visits the base regularly for business.
"It is very good to take care of the local people."

It was also a great example of inter-service teamwork, Hooker said.

"It has bridged a gap with the Army, because of how the Air Force came here and helped," he said.

The Iraqi contractor's quality of work on this project was noticed and has since opened opportunities for other construction jobs on Joint Base Balad.