By Capt. John Landry, 4-1 ArmoredApril 13, 2010
At the end of any combat deployment, it is common to take a moment and assess what the Soldiers of a unit have accomplished over 12 months away from friends and family.
As a battalion deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Task Force Pathfinder, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, spent the year partnering with the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Maysan, Dhi Qar and Muthanna Provinces, while spurring civil capacity projects in southern Iraq. In doing so, they've created a blueprint for success as combat units transition to stability roles in Iraq, all while making a lasting difference in the lives of thousands of Iraqis.
In their efforts to rebuild schools, extend the electrical power grid, and provide clean drinking water, Pathfinder Soldiers have experienced firsthand the words spoken by President Barack Obama, in his inaugural address when he stated "People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
Although initially trained and organized as an artillery unit, Task Force Pathfinder spent its tour building civil capacity to aid in southern Iraq's reconstruction.
This comprised more than 800 individual missions, the most in the entire brigade. This included building, managing, inspecting, securing, or opening more than 240 different projects with a combined value in excess of $41 million.
Each of these civic projects, funded by the Commander's Emergency Response Program, were designed to improve the delivery of essential services, enable the rule of law, and stimulate economic development with the direct involvement of the Iraqi provincial governments.
Among, its projects, the task force designed and constructed the Regional Center of Excellence for Civil Capacity on Contingency Operating Base Adder near Nasiriyah. This one-of-a-kind headquarters attracted a broad range of civilian and military agencies, allowing for greater synchronization among entities such as the Human Terrain Team, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
This unique template for civil-military cooperation has been adopted by subsequent units entering theater seeking to replicate the success enjoyed in Task Force Pathfinder's three provinces. The continuation of these newly developed and tested procedures and structure provide the foundation for the legacy the Pathfinders will soon leave behind.
The partnership and camaraderie created between all three PRTs and the taskforce's Soldiers has come to symbolize the success of the mission. Their efforts and cooperation with the Government of Iraq are manifested in the smiles of the young girls who now attend the newly constructed Al Majid Girls School in Muthanna, the first and only school for girls in the entire province.
Steve Banks, Maysan PRT Team Leader, described the relationship as "a huge success."
"The brigade and taskforce clearly 'got it' and understood the need to put Iraqi institutions in the lead while we focus on helping the Iraqis to have the tools and capabilities they need to take charge of their own affairs," he said.
Each of Task Force Pathfinder's CERP projects, technical training programs, and assistance efforts are the direct result of working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi provincial governments and aiding them in addressing resident's needs.
By doing so, the Pathfinders have promoted a shift of responsibility toward the elected Iraqi officials and the democratic process. In turn, this has brought the southern provinces one step closer to the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.
"I could not be any prouder of these great Soldiers," stated Lt. Col. Michael Eastman, commander of Task Force Pathfinder. "They have embraced this unique mission. I am very optimistic that we have set the conditions to sustain the progress made in Iraq since the first days of the ground war. Iraq is a different place today than it was a year ago, and these outstanding young Americans had a direct hand in that achievement."