By Capt. Maggie White, 56th SBCT PAOMarch 10, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - National Guardsmen from Pennsylvania are providing expertise and assistance for the Iraqi Army and civil engineers here.
The engineers from 56th Stryker "Independence" Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad recently assumed control of the battlespace north of Baghdad, and are working with Iraqi civil and military personnel to carry on the security and reconstruction missions of the engineers.
"The 56th SBCT engineers are responsible primarily for route clearance and sanitation, force protection, and restoration of essential services" said Capt. Phil Benner, assistant brigade engineer for the 56th SBCT, a native of Tucson, Ariz. The engineers work closely with the Iraqi ministries and their Iraqi Army partners to accomplish these tasks.
Soldiers from the 856th Engineer Company and the 1st Battalion,108th Field Artillery Regiment conduct route clearance and sanitation. The brigade works with the 2nd Field Engineer Company, 9th Engineer Regiment, 9th Iraqi Army Division during route clearance efforts, Benner said. The 9th Engineers have a route clearance trained element and now conduct autonomous route clearing operations. Independence brigade engineers are helping the Iraqi Army expand that capability and more.
"We want to make sure the Iraqis have the tools they need for success on their own," Benner said.
A school on Camp Taji teaches the Iraqi Army basic combat engineering, and the brigade builds on those skills on a daily basis.
Brigade engineers oversee the force protection mission at many of the remote joint security stations in the Independence brigade's operational environment. The Iraqi Security Forces are gradually taking command of these locations, so the engineers from 56th SBCT are preparing them for the task of fortifying the bases, said Capt. Curtis Drake, brigade engineer for the 56th SBCT, of Brookville, Pa.
"We conduct vulnerability assessments and quality control and quality assurance at the security stations," Drake noted.
Their work on restoring essential services for local Iraqi citizens, such as power, sanitation, and the availability of water for drinking and irrigation is an ongoing effort. The anticipated opening of the North Baghdad Power Plant is an example of a project where Iraqis are rebuilding the local infrastructure, according to Drake.
The brigade engineers work full time with three Iraqi nationals who are civil and electrical engineers by trade. They conduct all work and planning through the Government of Iraq ministries with the 56th SBCT serving as mentors but working alongside experienced Iraqis.
"We don't want Coalition forces to make the primary decisions in these processes," Drake added. "We want to support the Iraqi leadership as they step out in front during this process."