<b>BAGHDAD Aca,!"</b> Lawyers are building staircases instead of court cases; school teachers are installing windows and doors instead of instilling knowledge; and chefs are pouring concrete instead of curry.
These and roughly 300 other Iraqi professionals and workers are busy building the $19 million Iraqi Army M1A1 Abrams tank fielding facility, secured storage site and living space area at the Besmaya Combat Training Center.
"We build for the defense of our country," said Mohammed Hadi Dakheel, the project manager. "We are proud to build these facilities for the M1A1, so our Army can be strong."
Iraqi unemployment estimates have ranged from as low as 18 percent to as high as 60 percent. The economic adviser to the Iraqi government, Kamal Basri, estimated Sept. 11 that unemployment ranged between 25 and 27 percent.
Unemployment and a push to build Iraq's infrastructure has led to a number of skilled professionals seeking work in construction jobs.
"What I see on the site are people who are grateful they have a job and people who are willing to keep their job, if it means improving, if it means stepping up and finding out what we are looking for," said U.S. Army Capt. Erick Nyingi, BCTC engineer advisor, and a native of Broken Arrow, Okla.
Nyingi and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Ford, an engineer advisor to the BCTC with Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Army, provide oversight on the project, which is funded with Iraqi Security Forces Funds, and ensure everything from the ground up is done correctly.
They act as quality assurance, even though it's not officially their job.
"We can only make suggestions," said Ford, a native of San Diego, Calif. "We can't go out and make demands. This is their work; it's for them. But we advise and they take our advice."
The engineer advisors are the eyes and ears of ITAM-Army. When they notice something unexpected, they ask questions and address it with United States Forces-Iraq leadership.
"Our presence there lets the contractor and the workers know the U.S. Army has a vested interest in the facilities that we're paying for," Nyingi said.
The workers are friendly to both U.S. forces and visitors that come to the site, Nyingi said.
"That tells you they are very grateful, and they take their job seriously," Nyingi said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also provides project oversight through quality assurance personnel.
They oversee a site on which 15,000 cubic meters of concrete and 12 acres of concrete pavement have been poured, that will serve as the foundation for the M1A1 facilities.
The M1A1 fielding and storage site boasts 80 fully-enclosed bays, two wash racks, maintenance bays, training buildings, headquarters buildings, warehouses, guard towers, and a motor pool workshop.
All of the 140 M1A1s that were recently purchased by the Government of Iraq from the United States and will be de-processed at Forward Operating Base Hammer before delivery to the BCTC fielding site.
"This fielding site is the launch pad for all the tanks that are going to Iraqi Army units," Nyingi said.
The Iraqi Army 9th Mechanized Division will receive all 140 M1A1 tanks. "This will provide enough tanks to establish four M1A1 tank battalions of 35 tanks each," said John Hutchings, ITAM-Army's M1A1 project officer.
The M1A1 living space area has noncommissioned officer and officer billeting to house more than 500 soldiers, a school house, a headquarters building, covered parking and a laundry facility.
The M1A1 fielding and storage sites and the living space area were designed for future M1A1 training. The Iraqi Army is preparing to take full control of its M1A1 training program at the BCTC, as U.S. forces withdraw and contracted instructors leave.
"The facilities will, in the long term, become a part of the Combat Training Center at Besmaya," Hutchings said. "The facilities will be handed over to the BCTC for use by battalion-size units conducting training on the Besmaya Range."
Before the Government of Iraq decided to purchase the M1A1 tanks, the proposal was made to develop Besmaya's firing range as a modern Combat Training Center, where Iraqi units could conduct unit-level collective training and combined-arms exercises, Hutchings said.
Additionally, a range was required for crew-served weapons and artillery. Besmaya was assessed as the best location for these activities, Hutchings said. However, a number of new facilities were required to support the creation of the Combat Training Center and the fielding of the M1A1 Tank.
"Besmaya is remote; it's ideal," Ford said. "There is a lot of space to train and drive tanks, a lot of ranges."
"I think the construction is really important because this is the birthing place for the whole M1A1 program," Nyingi said, "It shows where the Iraqi Army is headed."
Nyingi said he normally doesn't focus on the big picture, just on construction.
"But, when I take a step back, I do think about how I'm building something for the defense of Iraq," Nyingi said. "I feel like I've played my part in organizing the Iraqi Army."
Nyingi also believes the building has had a positive impact on the community.
"It's putting food on the table," he said.
Ninety-eight percent of the workforce is Iraqi, and most are from towns near Besmaya, such as Al Zaitia, Al Nahrwan and Hay Al Wahda.
One such local worker, Ra'ad Ali, said that he's proud to be building for his country's defense.
"I'm helping my country," Ra'ad said. "In the future I think I will be involved in building hospitals and schools."
The M1A1 facilities project and the jobs it has created will help Iraq move forward, Mohammed said.
The project will provide state-of-the-art training facilities for the Iraq Army, Hutchings said.
<b>Editor's note:</b><i> Menegay is a member of the Ohio Army National Guard's 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.</i>