By Staff Sgt. Natalie Hedrick, 3-3 Public AffairsMarch 8, 2010
The success of this week's elections for five southern provinces in Iraq rested on the Mid-Euphrates Operations Center, located at Contingency Operating Station Echo.
The MEOC, which is co-located with the 8th Iraqi Army Division headquarters in Diwaniyah Province, is the monitoring station for operations and intelligence assets for the provinces of Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Diwaniyah and Wasit. The 8th IA Division is the military unit responsible for securing those provinces.
Initially, the center was assembled to facilitate the 8th IA and 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division's efforts in supporting and securing the elections through March 7. Leaders are now expecting its role to continue even now that the elections are over.
"The American's role was just to set it up," said Sgt. 1st Class Danny Waldrip, a battle noncommissioned officer at the MEOC. "Also, to advise and assist the Iraqis and improve the overall operations so that it suits their purposes so they can ultimately take the MEOC over from the U.S."
The MEOC is made up of an operations center, an intelligence fusion cell and a communications department. Each section is comprised of Soldiers and leaders from both the 3rd HBCT and the 8th IA Div., with the Iraqis in the lead.
"This is the first true Iraqi-run election," Waldrip said. "Americans really didn't have that much to do with it."
Waldrip explained how the Iraqi Soldiers and leaders working in the operations center would monitor when ballots were delivered to the different polling sites and track statistics.
Second Lt. Mustafa Mahdi, intelligence fusion chief, said his cell's main mission is to gather intelligence information.
"Some people want to make chaos for the elections and spread rumors about the elections and the political figures," he said through a translator. "We need to know about that so we can stop it."
Staff Sgt. Edward Nowicki, 3rd HBCT intelligence fusion NCO, explained that the fusion cell is combining multiple sources of intelligence and will be able to paint a complete picture and make an assessment of what can be expected to happen. He said the information gathered and the assessments made are then taken to both Col. Peter Jones, commander for the 3rd HBCT, and staff Lt. Gen. Othman, commander for the 8th IA Div.
"We are combining our assets," Nowicki said. "They are out on the ground and we have the technology."
Mustafa explained that, by working with Soldiers of the 3rd HBCT, he and his Soldiers and leaders are able to use assets they have never used before.
"It has been perfect working with the American Soldiers," Mustafa said. "They have given us many assets that are new to us like overhead surveillance and geospatial software."
Nowicki also explained that his Iraqi counterparts are familiar with the local culture, and that familiarity helps tremendously in gathering intelligence.
"They can just go out on the street or make one phone call and get the information," he said. "What would be a much slower and complicated process for me, they can get with one phone call."
Sgt. Mohammed Salim, MEOC Communications sergeant with the 8th IA Div., voted March 4 in the special needs elections. The day was open specifically for members of the Iraqi Security Forces, hospitals and prisoners who would be unable to vote in the March 7 general elections.
"I was not nervous," Mohammed said through a translator. "It was very normal. These elections were something special because the list was open and the voters could see who they were voting for."
"From 2005 until now the Iraqi people learned a lot about the public figures," he said. "We are more educated now to choose the right person for the position. The votes are more accurate now."
Waldrip explained that the March 4 special needs elections were successful and every voter was accounted for.
The MEOC was the hub for election security and operations. But for people like Nowicki and Waldrip, it was also a learning experience they will never forget.
"For me this is the most rewarding part of the tour," Nowicki said, "being able to work here and to understand the differences between them and us helps us better support them."
"We came out here with a good package," Waldrip said. "We are managing well. I just wish I knew more Arabic."
Waldrip said he didn't know what to expect before coming out to work in the MEOC. He explained that he had worked in the brigade's tactical operations center most of his deployed military career.
"This is the closest I've come to talking with Iraqis, even if it's through a translator," he said. "This is a learning experience for me. It's something that will stay with me for a long time."