By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsSeptember 28, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - The 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division is continuing meetings in a partnership-originally established more than three years ago by the 1st Cav. Div. and 4th Infantry Div.-- with the Austin city government designed to assist local Iraqi government officials with understanding the concepts of governance and how governments operate within a local system.
In efforts to foster self-reliant local Iraqi governments, using Austin as a model for how the different levels of government should work based on a council-manager form of government, Ironhorse Brigade senior leadership, along with members of their Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team and civil affairs personnel met again with the city of Austin through a live video feed on Camp Taji, Iraq Sept. 21.
Through exchanges with Austin, the brigade receives feedback and a reach back capability through which they can pass information and advice to local Iraqi government officials.
Heading the discussion with the Austin city manager, Toby Hammett Futrell and other city officials, Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, deputy commanding officer for the Ironhorse Brigade, explained how much things have changed within the Ironhorse area of operations since the brigade's last meeting with Austin in late June.
Security is improving within the Ironhorse area of operations to the extent that work to help Iraqis establish their own local governments has been greatly accelerated, Andrysiak told the government officials.
"The security environment has improved greatly and we're experiencing a sense of normalcy. The last time we spoke we were having 20 to 25 significant activities per day which includes contact with enemy forces, that's been pushed down to about five activities a day," said Andrysiak, who hails from Austin. "Thanks to the reconciliation process which has been spreading throughout our AO in a significant manner, locals are pushing Al Qaeda out of their towns and we're in a relative calm that hasn't been experienced in years."
"A lot of progress has been made," he added. "We are still building on some local government shortcomings such as the provision of services."
Andrysiak also explained progress within areas such as Abu Ghraib which now has a mayor/city manager and Taji which has a subordinate mayor/city manager who is "performing relatively well."
"We now have an executive/administrative leader in position that can manage the delivery of services," said Andrysiak. "We are advertising for another mayor position (in Taji) and so far we've received 16 responses from people interested in the position, so we've got progress moving forward there as well."
Along with progress being made with Iraqi governments setting up their own city managers, there were also continued discussions on consolidated governance centers that local Iraqi governments will be working with the 1st BCT EPRT to establish. These centers essentially serve as "one-stop" shops in which local residents will easily find services such as police stations, emergency services, public-works permits and access to social programs along with other key government offices working out of one secure location to better serve them.
"This allows for the mayor, the technical staff and the council to all meet at one facility and so far everyone likes this concept," said Col. Mike Bridges, governance group leader for the Ironhorse Brigade's EPRT, who hails from Anchorage, Alaska, addressing the Austin city manager.
The brigade's EPRT has also been making progress in mentoring local governments in a program that gives classes on governance. In addition to this, according to Bridges, the brigade has been helping the Iraqi officials to create their own committees.
"Our governance side is developing nicely," said Bridges. "The civil affairs teams have been working as mentors and the EPRT has been working the governance program which is similar to Civics 101 classes in which we give two hour weekly summaries within the Qadas."
"We're beginning at the Qada (district) level to form key committees to include water and education committees as well as committees on women and children which are for mothers and orphans," added Bridges. "It's in its infancy but we are also helping to generate product packages for repair of essential services, along with forming committee workshops with brigade and engineer staffs."
Some of the other topics discussed during the meeting included fire and rescue stations, recommendations for members of committees and how committees are formed along with their processes and community involvement in the government among other issues.
Throughout the meeting, the Austin city council office offered suggestions and recommendations for ways in which to enhance how emergency services are provided for communities, ways in which budget requests and project requests are handled at a local level and different ways to use media to involve constituents in their government.
Futrell and her staff said they were impressed with progress being made by the Ironhorse Brigade and look forward to continuing the partnership to assist Iraqis in understanding concepts of local governance.
"Whatever we can do, we're willing to help you, even with a small issue," said Futrell.
Based off of the latest meeting with Austin and the city's recommendations, the Ironhorse Brigade will be working with the local Iraqi governments to help them figure out what kinds of emergency rescue vehicles will work best for their cities and how best for cities to set up fire and emergency services such as the most efficient or expedient location from which to serve their communities.
They also received recommendations for public awareness programs to keep the Iraqi people informed of what their local governments are doing through public access-type media such as televised council meetings, articles and websites.
"Our partnership with Austin continues to be an invaluable resource through which the Iraqi people and their local governments are going to reap the benefits," said Andrysiak. "They are providing us with valuable examples that the Iraqi governments can use toward their efforts in building their own government structure and these are examples that they can mold to fit their own culture."
"They are ideas in governance that work toward giving the people being governed the most say in the way their government is run," added Andrysiak. "This is very important as a model because the Iraqi people will have the opportunity to address issues brought up in local committees and subcommittees and have a real voice in the political process-something they were denied under Saddam Hussein."
Future topics of discussion for follow-on meetings with the city of Austin will include how local governments handle such issues as solid waste management, trash transfer stations and how far away they need to be from residential areas as well as the planning of routes for picking up trash within cities.
There will also be further discussions on essential services and more detailed, in-depth examinations of each role within city councils and committees among other vital aspects of local governments that are required for them to run efficiently, according to Andrysiak.