TAJI, Iraq - Washington D.C. native, Capt. Mary Alice Keller, civil affairs team leader assigned to the 1479th Civil Affairs Company, speaks with Iraqi engineers about possible projects at the Tarmiyah Center, Oct. 13

TAJI, Iraq - The shift of U.S. forces out of Iraqi cities has created a new set of tasks for troops in the Iraqi countryside.

Combining the talents of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment's leadership with members from the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team North and the 1479th Civil Affairs Company to form a Project Working Group, the goal is to highlight projects that benefit the local populace.

During a meeting held at the Tarmiyah Center, Oct. 13, district engineers from Tarmiyah, Abayachi, and Mushada met with members of the group to discuss possible area projects.

Rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq will create validity of the government in the eyes of its people, said Capt. Mary Alice Keller, the 1479th team leader, from Washington D.C.

"The Project Working Group just began in this area," said Athens, Ala., native, 2nd Lt. Nicholas Bryan, the battalion's civil military operations officer in charge. "It has been successful in other areas, and I believe that it'll be successful here too."

The local Iraqi leaders created a list of 200 projects, but after much discussion and compromise, the list is now down to 70.

"These projects will help keep the people happy," said Sheik Ahmed, a Sons of Iraq leader from the Abayachi district. "They have done so much for us, we are very appreciative."

Chosen projects focus mainly on essential services such as water and waste management, electricity, health services and schools. The idea of the project working group is to help as many people as possible with one project, explained Bryan.

"I am very satisfied with the list of projects that you have asked for, it is a fairly spread list throughout the Qada," said Lt. Col. Scott Jackson, the battalion commander, to area leaders. "They represent serious concerns in the Qada and the needs of the people."

The Project Working Group is designed to help fund projects which benefit the people, but that is not the only purpose for the existence of this group.

"We are hoping to get across that we aren't just here for the projects," explained Bryan. "We are trying to bolster them to do it on their own."

The Commanders Emergency Response Program helps fund the projects, but the Iraqi Government is required to pay for a portion of the projects. Because the Iraqi Government helps fund the projects, they will have ownership as well. This sense of ownership is expected to keep Iraqi leaders involved in these projects after completion and after U.S. forces withdraw.

According to Keller, if governmental officials are a part of the project, they will better respect it; they will want it to be taken care of. With the government's assistance to support and help their people, it will increase the locals' trust that their government can protect and take care of them and their families.

"We are very appreciative of everything that the U.S. forces are doing for us," said A.
Hameed, a city council engineer from the Abayachi district. "They have done so much for us since they have been here."

The civil affairs team, with the help of Jackson, will decide which projects will best benefit the people and announce their decision at the next meeting.

"This group is more than just projects," said Bryan. "It will help strengthen the Qada leaders so when U.S. forces pull out of Iraq they have something set up to swing toward."

Page last updated Mon October 19th, 2009 at 11:19