COE: rebuilding Iraq: civilians on the battlefield don't ask why they must sometimes put themselves in harm's way, because they know the work they're doing is extremely important.
In January 2004 the Corps established the Gulf Region Division, a provisional command operating in Iraq. It's composed mostly of civilians who have volunteered from Corps district offices around the world.
The idea of working side-by-side with civilians in a battlefield environment is something that initially takes a little getting used to, said MAJ Eric Stor, operations officer for the Restore Iraqi Electricity Directorate, operating in Baghdad. "But I'd serve with these folks any time."
Stor said civilians on the battlefield don't ask why they must sometimes put themselves in harm's way, because they know the work they're doing is extremely important.
"Despite reports of convoys being attacked and people being killed by improvised explosive devices, Corps employees know they need to get their boots on the ground, too, just as Soldiers do, to complete projects, and they don't hesitate to jump into the lion's den," said Stor.
When the Corps was first tasked to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq, then-Chief of Engineers LTG Robert Flowers directed that deployed personnel wear the DCU so they could be readily identified as friendly forces and help convey the message that U.S. Soldiers and civilians are partners in the coalition's efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq.
When hostilities intensified during the spring of 2004, that decision was validated as civilian and military personnel were often targeted by terrorist groups in Iraq.
According to then-GRD commander MG Ronald Johnson, the uniform served as a daily reminder for Corps employees of the significance of the mission and the adherence to Army values.
"You bear a responsibility to Soldiers you sit next to in the dining hall, who are risking their lives every day [out on the streets of Baghdad, Falluja and elsewhere]," he wrote in a letter to employees in May 2004.
"They are an essential part of our total force here," said BG Thomas Bostick, who became GRD's commander in June 2004.
Since the early days following the liberation of Iraq, and especially when hostilities escalated in April 2004, the fortitude of these volunteer civilians was tested as several forward-operating bases came under constant indirect fire, a GRD official said.
"It takes some time to adjust to mortar rounds landing in your vicinity, but you still have work to do," said Nola Conway, who has served three tours in Iraq, working in logistics and public affairs areas for the Corps.
Danielle Stephens, serving as a construction manager for the divisions' Central District in Baghdad, has been working with 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers and Iraqi planners to restore the water and wastewater systems in Baghdad. While project schedules have been affected by the activities of insurgents, Corps employees have continued to work.
"The constant threat is not something I dwell on, since there is so much work to do," said Stephens.
Fortunately, the Corps has thus far not had a civilian casualty during the rebuilding effort, but civilians serving in the OIF theater have not escaped hostilities, officials said. On Christmas Eve 2003, engineer Gary York was in a convoy that came under attack north of Baghdad.
York, whose regular job is as a senior controller for the Gavins Point Dam in Yankton, S.D., was serving with the RIE team and returning to camp when his three-vehicle convoy was attacked. He escaped the assault with shrapnel wounds to his head and shoulders, but two security personnel in the convoy were killed.
Another Corps employee, Ghassem Khorsorownia, a technical specialist in seismic engineering from the Corps' Sacramento District, was also injured in a convoy attack in September 2003.
Both employees later received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Defense of Freedom for their injuries, and both plan to return to Iraq. York volunteered for his second tour in early 2005.
Corps Successes in Iraq
SINCE early 2003 COE employees in Iraq have worked with their Iraqi counterparts and both coalition and multinational organizations to restore services and facilities in Iraq. Their successes include:
* Adding nearly 1,800 megawatts of energy to the Iraqi power grid (one MW is enough to support 3,000 Iraqi homes).
* Building more than 1,200 electricity-transmission towers and replacing or restoring more than 5,300 miles of conductors in transmission lines throughout Iraq--enough to stretch across the United States twice.
* Helping bring the Haditha hydro-electric dam back to full operational capacity for the first time since 1990.
* Capping oil fires in southern Iraq and working to restore the country's oil-export system.
* Helping the country beef up its oil exports to an average of 2 million barrels per day.
* Raising the domestic oil-fuels refinery capability from zero to 50 percent of the country's need in less than a year.
* Undertaking or supporting $12.6 billion worth of construction to the Iraqi infrastructure.
* Building or restoring more than 40 training facilities, military bases, and police and fire stations throughout the country.
* Building or restoring more than 500 schools, 52 clinics, 10 fire stations, sewage-treatment plants, railways, roads and airport-terminal facilities; and
* Coordinating with Iraqi ministries to develop intern-mentor programs with Iraqi engineers for long-term engineering solutions in Iraq.
Thomas A. O'Hara is a public affairs specialist for the Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.