By Pfc. J.P. Lawrence, Multi-National Division - SouthJune 8, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA (Army News Service, June 8, 2009) -- Iraq's first notable tourist, Jonah, hated it. Belched out of a whale and stuck under Ninevah's parching, sweltering sun, the Bible says he cared more for the plant that shaded him than for the city he was sent to save.
Thousands of years later, it's clichAfA to say Iraq is not everyone's ideal day-trip. But, in the six years since Saddam Hussein was deposed, conditions have reached the point where tourism is now a viable industry.
That's where Master Sgt. Dave Cullen of the 34th Infantry Division comes in.
"My job is to increase tourism to Iraq," said Cullen, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for Tourism and Employment in Multi-National Division-South.
Hundreds of thousands of people already travel to Najaf, Karbala and Babil for religious events every year, said Cullen. "Some of the northern provinces in our area have over 30% of the economy based on tourism."
In addition, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates has hundreds of historical sites and is the birthplace Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar and also the wheel.
"The history of the world starts there," Cullen said.
Unfortunately for history buffs everywhere, nations ravaged by over 30 years of war and tyranny generally do not offer a plethora of five-star accommodations.
"They don't have a very good hotel industry or service industry," said Cullen.
The good news, however, is that Cullen will not have to revive Iraq's tourism sector all by himself. In addition to the brigade combat teams and non-government organizations in the area, Cullen will be working by, with, and through Iraqi nationals.
"It can't be Dave Cullen going down there and saying I need to set up a hotel," said Cullen. "It has to be agreed upon through their eyes."
By working together with the Iraqi government, Cullen will be helping ensure a healthy economy for Iraq after Coalition forces are no more.
"The increase of tourism by increasing their economy is going to build a safer environment," said Cullen.
Like Jonah and his whale, Cullen and the 34th Red Division have been tasked with a unique mission: to help make Iraq a better place.
Even if it is a little hot.