By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.May 6, 2008
AUSTIN, Texas -- The 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division honored its partnership with the Austin city government during an informal ceremony April 30 at the Zilker Park Botanical Garden here by recognizing city government officials for their support of the brigade's reconstruction efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08.
In order to help local Iraqi governments stand on their own feet during OIF 06-08, the Ironhorse Brigade utilized expertise from the Austin city government in this partnership to assist them in understanding concepts of governance from a real, working local government model.
During the ceremony, brigade senior leadership presented the city of Austin with a framed Ironhorse Brigade Operation Iraqi Freedom Rotation 06-08 poster, gave brigade coins to city government officials and presented former Austin city manager Toby Futrell, who retired from the position in February, with a Commander's Award for Public Service-a civilian medal that is equivalent to the Army Commendation Medal. Futrell received the award for her help in coordinating efforts in the partnership.
Through the partnership which originally began during Operation Iraqi Freedom II , the brigade took advantage of a program used by both the 1st Cavalry Division and the 4th Infantry Division, to receive feedback and advice on how local governments operate through solid examples from the city of Austin.
Prior to the brigade's deployment, members of the brigade staff and senior leaders participated in a two-day class in Austin, hosted by the Austin city government and designed to show how local city governments operate and how those examples of local governance could be applied to local governments in Iraq.
Over the course of OIF Rotation 06-08, the Ironhorse Brigade senior leadership, civil affairs specialists and its Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) collaborated with the city of Austin through video-teleconference meetings and conference calls to Camp Taji, Iraq.
According to Chimayo, N.M. native, Maj. Steven Espinoza, who was the former Ironhorse Brigade Civil Affairs Officer and now serves as the 1st Cav. Div. Civil Affairs Officer, the partnership yielded many positive results toward helping local Iraqi governments in the Ironhorse Brigade area of operations.
"They were integral in helping us to develop a campaign plan to assist local governments in Iraq," said Espinoza. "They helped us with understanding the concepts of committees and councils and its really amazing how much we were able to accomplish with their help during the deployment."
Some of the many areas in which the Austin city government advised the brigade included the areas of essential services such as emergency services, fire stations, water projects, electricity projects, solid waste and septic projects among many others.
Along with that, the Austin city government assisted the brigade with ideas on plans for the creation of consolidated governance centers where local Iraqi citizens would be allowed to access government services in one convenient location, according to Espinoza.
These centers include a post office, emergency services such as police and fire department, public works and employment offices among a host of other services.
The local government of the city of Sab Al Bor opened the doors to its consolidated governance center in December of 2007.
Using the model of a city manager-type local government with the help of Austin government officials, the Ironhorse Brigade also worked closely with local Iraqi governments to assist them in the establishment of city manager positions, known as a Q'aim Makim, in the Abu Ghraib and Taji areas of Baghdad. These Q'aim Makims are very similar to city managers in the U.S. who work in conjunction with the administrative and technical branches of government to bring services to the people.
Toby Futrell, the former Austin city manager who assisted in the partnership with the Ironhorse Brigade, said the experience was worthwhile.
"It's a wonderful program and we're grateful that we've been able to help," said Futrell. "It can be hard to transition city government to that type of environment (in Iraq) and there were a lot of challenges as we thought it through."
"We started with the premise that if we could ever stabilize local government services for the local Iraqi residents that it could turn the tide (of the war)," added Futrell. "At the end of the day, if you have electricity, that's the absolute foundation for safety. And when it comes to proper health and safety, there are so many fundamental things that we take for granted that could be such a stabilizer there."
Toward the end of its deployment, the brigade saw a significant drop in violence in its area operations, allowing the brigade to partner with local Iraqi governments to concentrate their combined efforts more on reconstruction and local governance issues than security. The partnership with Austin, helped to facilitate many of those efforts, according to Espinoza.