FLIGHT TO MECCA
Multi-National Division – North PAO
By Spc. Eric A. Rutherford,
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
MOSUL, Iraq – During the last month of the Islamic year, more than a million Muslims make the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This year, local Iraqis can make the pilgrimage more easily for the first time in almost 14 years, due to a working relationship between the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the provincial Iraqi government, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The relationship created a plan to renovate the Mosul Passenger Terminal on Forward Operating Base Diamondback in order to allow people to take flights out of the area to complete the pilgrimage. That plan was set into motion, July 1, when construction began.
“This project is primarily the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Iraqis of course,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alex Barlas, the PRT representative working on this project with USACE and the local Iraqi government. “It is very important we integrate them into all of our projects. The Iraqis wanted this terminal renovated. The terminal has not had any flights since around 1993.”
The project, led by USACE, has approximately 70 people working to complete the renovation prior to the terminal’s scheduled opening, Nov. 12.
“The end-state goal is to have the interior of terminal renovated to the point where it can be used by people passing through,” said Barlas. “We want to have it open in time for people to make it to Mecca.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Turkish contractors are in charge of the renovation.
“The renovation’s basic scope is to install electric, phone and data lines,” said Alda Ottley, the project engineer for USACE. “We will have new paint and plaster, polish the tile and repair any missing ones.”
The building, which was already in place, will be modernized, and some new additions will be included.
“The staircase will be renovated with modern railing,” said Ottley. “There is a lounge upstairs, and a VIP area for departure and arrival with kitchen. There is also a security and concierge desk.”
These new additions are intended to make passengers’ travel through this terminal more enjoyable and to eventually make this terminal more than just a place where people can connect with the pilgrimage. The first order of business for the terminal is to allow local Iraqis the opportunity to fly out for their pilgrimage for the first time in more than a decade; subsequent plans include expanding services.
“With a minimum of two flights a day, we are expecting a minimum of 300 passengers a day,” said Ottley. “During the month of the Hajj, it will be straight Hajj flights, but eventually it will be a full blown terminal.”
The importance of this terminal is underscored by more than just a need for modern facilities – it will allow people of Islamic faith from more remote northern areas to make the pilgrimage more easily. Muslims believe the Hajj must be completed in order to get to Heaven.
“This will have a major impact on the city of Mosul,” Ottley said about the project, which has had no significant setbacks to construction. Upon completion, the daily flights will allow Muslims in the area the chance to fulfill their religious duties.
Easier air travel will soon be available to the people of the area. This project is the work of not just the USACE and PRT, but several other Iraqi agencies as well.
“Iraqi Civil aviation authority, and Iraqi Airways are working on this project,” said Barlas. “The money is being funded through the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Finance.”
With the completion of the project nearing, as well as the beginning of the Hajj, Barlas feels that progress is being made.
“[This is] A very good project and we are glad to be working on these things, with the Iraqis,” said Barlas. “The reason we are here is to assist the Iraqi people. But really it is about helping others."
Story and Photos by SPC Eric Rutherford - take care, my friend!!!