BAGHDAD (June 30, 2009) -- Soldiers from the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's geospatial intelligence section are playing a role in helping Iraqi leaders prepare to expand irrigation and farming throughout Iraq.

The Soldiers are teaching 20 Iraqi technicians on data processing procedures they will use to inventory the Iraqi farmland and irrigation infrastructure.

Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Nichols and Pfc. Amanda Po, both with Headquarters Company, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, are presenting a geospatial systems workshop to Ministry of Water Resources and Ministry of Agriculture officials in the International Zone. The course, that began June 21, will continue throughout the week.

The workshop shows technicians how to compile data, gathered recently by field technicians, to measure canal layouts and amounts of acreage used for growing various crops.

"Basically they're looking for an accurate, fast way of processing this information," said Nichols, the brigade's senior geospatial intelligence engineer.

Nichols explained that the ministries will use the raw data to begin a cost analysis of improvement projects. Many parts of the canal system are over 30 years old and are in various states of disrepair.

The Stryker Soldiers got involved in the data-gathering effort after previously assisting the U.S. Agency for International Development/Tatweer program by preparing maps of a roughly 35-square-kilometer area, between Taji and Baghdad. That area, south of the grand canal, is the pilot area for the irrigation inventory.

The Tatweer, an Arabic word meaning development, provides support to the ministries for capacity development in public management.

Nichols and Spc. Jessica Yates, another brigade geospatial analyst, developed the block of instruction after discussing the need for the training with Robert Kirkman, the programs U.S. senior advisor to the MoWR. Nichols and Kirkman, who has led the GIS-mapping and irrigation canal surveying efforts, met with Iraqi water resource officials to learn about their data management needs in completing an inventory.

"These processes are going to be the basis for their new GIS centers," Nichols said of centers to be developed at each ministry and linked together through a database. "Now both ministries can use this data collectively to better economic development."

Nichols explained that once information is processed it can be used to determine how many acres of crops a stretch of canal can support compared to current agriculture usage. The GPS information, Nichols said, can show Iraqi officials where there may be unregistered water pumps and can illustrate canal flow capacity. Farmers in Iraq must get a permit to pump from a canal if their usage meets a certain level.

Nichols said the training "has gone really well." After a few days of learning the processing program, the technicians began working with the actual data from Canal 42, in the Taji Irrigation District, east of Sa'ab al Bour.

Kirkman, who has worked with the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team working with 56th SBCT, said the project utilizes the 56th Brigade's "relationship with the locals."

The USAID/Tatweer program and inter-ministerial teams are working to improve survey methods to more accurately determine cropping patterns into an economic model. That model will show potential returns on crops grown if water is returned to rehabilitated canals.

Nichols and Po used an interpreter to present their model to the technicians in a brisk exchange of questions and answers. The students huddled in groups around laptop computers as the two instructors led them through the steps of turning GPS points into detailed maps.

Po, a geospatial analyst, said her involvement in the class is showing students how to set up their system to use the GIS data. A year ago Po, a 2007 high school graduate, was a brand new Soldier with a semester of college completed. Now she's helping Iraqis build their future.

"I got on this deployment right out of [advanced individual training]," Po said. "It makes me feel really good. They have the ability. They're going to go a long way."

"The benefit they get out of it is it helps them work together," Po continued. "What we're showing them ... is how they can use their water system to rebuild capacity."

Po's day-to-day work on the deployment includes doing terrain analysis and responding to requests for mapping information. Po said her experience in Iraq is shaping her future.

"I have decided from this deployment to go back and get my degree in GIS and hopefully come back here as a civilian to help them," Po said.

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