Multi-National Division – North Public Affairs Office
By Spc. Eric A. Rutherford,
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
TIKRIT, Iraq – In Salah Al-Din province, where 2.3 million Iraqis live, few people have reliable electricity, and even fewer have running water. U.S. Soldiers have teamed up with local Iraqis and U.S. Government agencies to create a program that will train some of the people who live in the Maryland-sized province to get the skills they need to rebuild their country.
The program aims to put Iraqis to work –help train them and open the door to obtaining U.S. Government contracts or starting their own contracting companies. The program is known as IBIZ or Iraqi Business and Industrial Zone. Construction on the first project, the Joint Regional Contract Center began April 16 and was completed May 30. The completed project, officially named the Sal Al-Din Business Center, is a large complex adjacent to the Entry Control Point on Contingency Operation Base Speicher.
“The idea started earlier this spring between the military, the Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Joint Regional Contract Center,” said Capt. Jim Golby, the commander of Headquarters Support Company, 25th Special Troops Battalion. “The group got together and decided to come up with this integrated concept.”
The Sal Al-Din Business center consists of three facilities. The first facility is the JRCC office that gives Iraqis access to U.S. Government contracts that they can do on the COB with increased protection from Soldiers. The second area of the center is the material transfer point for Turkish and Iraqi contractors to deliver material to a rock crusher and concrete batch plant for making force protection barriers. The third facility is the Kellogg Brown and Root Skills Training Area.
Golby, who has been involved with the project since its inception, said there are 35 Iraqi workers hired by KBR to do on the job training. They will learn plumbing, electrical and carpentry skills to U.S. and British standards. The aim of this training is to enable them to become qualified for better paying jobs on the COB. He estimates that the project, which is still in its infancy, could save the U.S. government $5-10 million this year.
There are approximately 100 Iraqis working at the site. Golby expects there to be an additional 55 workers in the program by January. These new workers will have opportunities to learn skills in welding, heating ventilation and air conditioning, and small engine repair for generators. He estimates that eventually there will be around 500 employees working at IBIZ.
When IBIZ is fully operational, planners estimate it will save the U.S. $70 million and infuse around $19 million into the Iraqi economy annually, by awarding contracts to lower costing Iraqi labor. According to IBIZ planning documents, the facilities were projected to cost $685,000 to build, and approximately $1.5 million per year to operate.
“This is a tremendous initiative for the Iraqis,” said Golby. “It allows them to get skills training. It allows them to develop economic capacity and get jobs.”
The initiative, which provides jobs and bolsters the local economy, did not come about easily.
“We had to integrate this project into our entry control point, which was a major task,” said Golby. “We went through a lot of hard work, but thankfully I’ve had a lot of dedicated Soldiers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) who have spent 12-hour days out in the sun, sometimes in 125-degree heat who have secured this area and made it a very safe place for Iraqis to work and American Soldiers to be as well.”
Another challenge Golby mentioned was getting a variety of different agencies to work together. Hard work and dedication have made it a success, he said. One part of that success was getting village leaders involved in recruiting. Another significant hurdle was cleared when the provincial government gave its blessing to the project.
Not only will Iraqis gain work skills that can allow them to work on the COB, or through government contracts, but they will also be able to take their skills into the local economy and continue to rebuild their country, Golby said.
“Local contracts are good because it helps to develop their businesses in the local economy,” said Capt. George Plansky, the contracting officer with the JRCC, Tikrit. “It actually puts people to work. You may have a contract with 20 to 25 guys who are being put to work. The rock crusher is being operated by local Iraqis. When there is more money pumped into the local economy, there’s less guys in the streets trying to plant improvised explosive devices and stuff like that.”
In addition to providing skills training and alternatives to destructive activities, Plansky says IBIZ offers hope.
“We have put a lot of Iraqis to work,” said Plansky. “We have made a lot of people happy that we are employing people and it is giving them hope. Instead of just buying commodities, we get these guys to construct things or produce things such as gravel and concrete. Those kinds of activities for us will eventually spawn activities of the same caliber on the outside. If they can do it here in a secure environment, they will start to have impacts on their local economy.”
Golby and his Soldiers are getting ready to go home after their 15-month deployment. During that time, they have built relationships with the locals, and given something back to the people of Iraq.
“I think this is an outstanding initiative. I spent my last deployment over here as a scout platoon leader facing IEDs and small arms attacks on a fairly regular basis,” Golby said. “This time I have been able to work on this initiative, and I think the things we are doing here are the sort of things we need to do to help give Iraqis the chance to set up a working economy and a government that can sustain itself.”
Pictures and Story by SPC Eric Rutherford. Thanks, Eric - stay safe!!!