By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOApril 20, 2009
BAGHDAD - The 450th Civil Affairs Battalion and embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) members patrol the small neighborhood of Boob al-Sham here, listening for the clanking sounds of industrial machines instead of gunfire. The team steps into shadowy, odor-filled rooms in aged factories looking for businessmen instead of insurgents.
The Americans know the importance of industry in this tentatively peaceful neighborhood, said Mesa, Ariz. native, Spc. Trevor Gomez, a civil affairs specialist assigned to the 450th CA Bn., 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad. "The security situation is dependent on the economic situation," he said.
The Soldiers patrol the area with 1st Squadron, 7th Cav. Regiment, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div., out of Joint Security Station Istaqaal, in hopes of providing security through employment.
The Coalition forces are not simply handing money over to the factory owners, instead they are teaching them how to unite and manage their companies to make more money and Iraqi jobs, added Gomez.
"We're auditing the companies to try to understand where the bottlenecks are," said Blake Keller, an industrial advisor from Rochester, N.Y., assigned to the Baghdad ePRT 3. "Bottlenecks to growth and bottlenecks to employing more people are our main concerns."
Today was the first time that the Americans visited these three different factories in the area: a water bottling factory, a plastic manufacturing factory, and a tile making factory. According to Keller, the most pressing issue in Iraq is high levels of unemployment. "We have two major thrusts," he said. "One is to start up a factory owner's council to help advocate themselves to the Iraqi Government."
"Number two is to help alleviate the bottlenecks to growth," he added. "The plan is to identify the bottlenecks, then use the factory owners council to find relationships with banks and other development resources."
The visits were to spread the word to Iraqis about joining the factory owner's council. The council is in the process of being established and the local factory owners will elect officers to represent the area on the council to further their businesses.
"If it's not sustainable, we've got no interest in doing it," stated Keller. "The private business owners have a vested interest in their success and they're eager to learn and eager to get better because it's their money."
"We're structuring it so people can learn how to do it themselves," said Gomez. "That's why we aren't putting money directly into their hands."
The plan is to help the factory owners lobby the Government of Iraq for resources, provide training in managing and marketing as well as how to apply for bank loans, added Gomez.
"They already know what they want and need, we just get together and talk to them to give them ideas of how to go about getting it," said Spc. Justin Dayzie, a civil affairs specialist from Kaibeto, Ariz. assigned to the 450th CA Bn.
The factory visits also add an important aspect of security to the neighborhood by walking through and talking to the people daily, added Dayzie. The supportive 1st Sqdn., 7th Cav. Regt. Soldiers have been vital in helping civil affairs tackle their mission of providing security through employment.
Walking door-to-door and factory-to-factory to assess the needs of the Iraqi factory owners boosts the communities' spirits and the area's hope for the future, added Gomez.
"I've met very smart and very successful businessmen with a clear goal to evolve," he said. "If they're involved, I can see a successful future here, but it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time."
With time and dedication, the factory owner's council has a productive future ahead of itself manufacturing jobs, security and hope.