BAGHDAD - Col. Marc Ferraro, commander of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, told Iraqi journalists, May 12, that his Pennsylvania Army National Guard Soldiers, working alongside Iraqi Security Forces, have improved security in the Taji and Tarmiyah regions, north of Baghdad.

Ferraro and an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team leader also discussed ongoing efforts to improve local infrastructure during a press conference and luncheon held at the Freedom Rest center in the International Zone of Baghdad.

Over 30 Iraqi journalists, from media outlets based in Baghdad, attended the event. After making their opening statements, Ferraro and Linda Specht, the PRT leader, answered questions on topics ranging from security to freedom of the press to irrigation.

"Security does remain our number one priority within the qadas [regions]," Ferraro said. "We continue to conduct combined patrols with the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police throughout the qadas. We feel we have disrupted the enemy's ability to conduct operations."

Ferraro said implementation of security agreement mandates, directing Coalition forces to withdraw from cities by June 30, will not cause the brigade to reposition its forces, as the 56th SBCT operates in the mostly rural area north of the Iraqi capital.

Ferraro and Specht, a career State Department employee and foreign service officer, reported that the brigade, working with local Iraqi leaders, has 39 ongoing civil affairs projects. Another 50 projects have been proposed.

"We work on helping the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help themselves improve the standard of living within the Tarmiyah and Taji qadas," she said. "We're an extension, down to the grassroots level, of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq."

One journalist asked about what he said is "desertification" of one area along the Tigris River near Taji. Specht said increasing irrigation is a goal of civil affairs teams. Last week's opening of a refurbished pumping station at Sa'ab al-Bour will provide 20 percent more water to residents there.

One journalist asked Ferraro if Iraqi Soldiers and police officers are ready to take over when Coalition forces pull out. Ferraro said much progress has been made and reminded reporters that, "Four years ago there wasn't an Iraqi Army."

He said the Iraqi army soldiers his Soldiers work with are proficient down to the platoon level and are able to conduct patrols on their own. However, he said Iraqi security forces in the 56th's area still have need of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering assets. Ferraro pointed out that the 56th SBCT operates a combined information center to better enable brigade Soldiers to conduct missions jointly with the ISF.

Capt. Cory Angell, public affairs officer for the 56th SBCT, said meeting the media was an important mission for the brigade as well as an opportunity for journalists.

"It's important for us to interact with the Iraqi media, to tell them about the work we've been doing with the ISF," Angell said. "An event like this helps develop their information gathering agencies, so they can develop as the nation does."

Ferraro concluded the press conference by telling the journalists there's "one mission" for Coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and the people of Iraq - to better the quality of life for all Iraqis.

Ferraro extended an invitation for journalists to embed with units of his brigade so they can witness firsthand the day-to-day work of his Soldiers and the Iraqi security forces.

"Anyone of you is welcome," he said. "Come on up and see what we're doing."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16