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Duty in Iraq provided many challenges for FISC officer.

When LCDR Les Huffman joined the Navy, there was a popular recruiting slogan that said, "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." Last August, he received a telephone call that sent him on the ultimate adventure.

He was told that Fleet and Industrial Supply Center Norfolk had been tasked to provide an officer to work as a comptroller for the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) in Baghdad, Iraq. CMATT, commanded by Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, is a unit of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

CMATT's mission is to equip and train the new 27 battalion-strong Iraqi Army. They are also training and equipping the new Iraqi civil defense corps, as well as antiterrorism protection forces. These units will be comprised of more than 80,000 Iraqis once fully formed.

In preparation for his seven-month assignment in Iraq, Huffman was first sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, for a week of indoctrination training. "It's mainly to prepare you for what you are about to get into over there and to outfit you with the uniforms and equipment that you'll need prior to flying to Iraq," he explained.

There were classes that taught people like Huffman who were destined for Iraq about Iraqi culture. There were classes on security issues in Iraq. There was also weapons training and weapons qualification. Soon, it was time to go. "It felt like anytime you go into something new, explained Huffman. "You don't know what to expect, you don't know how serious it is over there because you're not living in it every day. I went into it cautiously, not understanding the full level of activity I was getting into."

After processing through Kuwait, Huffman finally arrived in Baghdad. CMATT was located in a palace once occupied by one of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday. When he found his desk, he noticed it was labeled "contracting." He quickly found out that even though he was sent there as a comptroller, he would also be writing statements of work for goods and services that would be used for outfitting the new Iraqi forces. He also found out that he needed to learn more about the Army, and fast!

"I worked for a two-star Army general there," said Huffman. "The first staff meeting I went to, the general told me, 'We need to put together a 27-battalion army. I need to know how our budget can make that work.' I didn't know how Army budgeting worked, and I had no clue what a 27-battalion army consisted of. For the first two weeks I was there, I was up every night studying budget profiles, and also studying the Army way of life."

Huffman had to become familiar with the makeup of different units and the sizes of different types of units. He also had to become familiar with Army terminology, rank structure and Army acronyms. "It was a whole new lifestyle that I wasn't accustomed to," he explained. "I wasn't called lieutenant commander there, I was called major. My whole thought process had to change."

Logistics challenges such as finding enough of the right material were the most difficult. The CMATT logistics team quickly flooded every possible marketplace with requirements, overwhelming both domestic and foreign sources. It seemed that everyone from every corner of the world wanted to provide material and services in support of the new Iraqi army, but only a few could meet the immediate demand, requiring a lot of quick fixes. Despite their lack of ability to adequately provide for their needs, most Iraqis were eager to participate in the process. "Most of the people I met and dealt with everyday were what I call typical Iraqis," said Huffman. "They want to work, they want to do things, and they want to be a part of what's going on."

One significant problem was procurement options. There was no supply system in place from which to order. Contracting was the only option. The contracting office was overwhelmed by the demands. Congressional as well as Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) restrictions added more challenges to my job of supporting the rebuilding of the New Iraqi Army. Restrictions such as the Barry Amendment, restrictions on non-coalition members, and numerous FAR requirements resulted in many challenges for meeting CMATT's aggressive schedule to rebuild the Iraqi Army by Sept. 30, 2004. But everyone forged ahead tackling each challenge head on as it surfaced.

"They don't have equipment, they don't have uniforms, they don't have vehicles--they have nothing," explained Huffman. "Then you put this gigantic demand not only on Iraq, but on neighboring countries, European countries, the U.S.--no one can meet their needs as fast as they need to be met. We couldn't find anyone who could do what we needed, as quickly as we needed, in the volume that we needed. The Iraqis have a long way to go before they are going to meet that kind of demand. They didn't have that kind of opportunity under the old regime, so they're not prepared for it. We have to help them learn how to meet that demand, where to go to get help, and that's going to be through many other sources other than just us."

Another major obstacle toward rebuilding Iraq is the Iraqi people have to learn how a free economy works. Many of the people there just don't know where to begin because they've never been equipped to function in a free economy. Many of them have never lived in that type of society. "We had to show them how to use computers," explained Huffman. "Only certain people had access to computers under the old regime.

One of our missions in CMATT, and with all of the ministries, was to integrate with the Iraqis so when it's time to turn over, you can take what you are doing and hand it over to them so they can continue to do the job. People don't know how to use the technology that we have. They're not accustomed to it so we have to train them. We're starting from scratch on everything basically in order to be able to turn over to them."

While in Iraq, LCDR Huffman had the additional task of conducting site evaluations of future military facilities throughout Iraq. The purpose of these evaluations was to determine the need for base camp support to include food, bulk water, waste management, intermediate maintenance facilities, recreational services, transportation services, retail and barber services, billeting, and cleaning services. During these visits he had the opportunity to see how Iraqis where living in Southern Iraq in Shiite areas, Northern Iraq in Kurdish areas, and in the Sunni Triangle areas around Baghdad.

"I didn't see a lot of the anti-American sentiment," he explained. "I had a lot of positive interaction with Iraqis. I met with Christians, Shiites and Sunnis. I went up to the Kurdish region and interacted with the Kurds. In every situation I had a positive experience. Everywhere I went, everyone I met with, I asked questions based on what I had heard about their situation to find out what was really going on in their area. They are the ones who are really in danger, because they didn't have the protection that I had. They were honest and would tell us if they were being harassed or threatened and some were. Toward the end of my tour there I was told that some had quit working with the coalition because they had been threatened, or because members of their family had been killed."

He was also tasked by the CMATT's commanding general to travel to Jordan to negotiate costs for a training program in which the Jordanian Armed Forces would train Iraqi officer candidates in Jordan.

Since returning from Iraq, Huffman has had time to reflect on his time there. He watches current news coverage, and worries about the messages that we see broadcast from there. "I think the news coverage is pretty much on target," he explained. "Some people think that some events that are covered are over dramatized to a certain degree and not enough of the positive stories are told. In a way, I guess I agree with that. I was over there working with the Iraqis and interacting with them on a daily basis so I saw the positive things that you're not seeing on the news here. I didn't run into the hostilities that are being depicted on TV. The people I saw were very friendly and opened their arms to us. One of the friendliest areas was the Kurdish region. They were very pro-American when I was there and I always had positive experiences with them."

Huffman also believes that while he and his colleagues in Iraq made a positive impact there, a free economy won't be realized soon. "First, you have to bring security to that country," said Huffman. "New infrastructure won't do you a bit of good unless you have a good security infrastructure. That is very slow going. You're trying to build a security infrastructure against many elements that don't want that in their country. There's a long road ahead for them. There is a lot that Americans don't understand about what they don't have over there--just how little they do have."

Despite all of the challenges he faced, Huffman thought his time there was a rewarding experience. "The experience gained from this tour in Iraq will benefit me in future duty assignments and has peaked my interest in additional assignments in the joint duty arena," he said. "I learned a lot, I really enjoyed it. I would do it again."

Shortly after returning from Iraq, Huffman left FISC Norfolk and transferred to Defense Supply Center, Richmond, Va.
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Title Annotation:Fleet and Industrial Supply Center
Author:Kohler, Jim; Huffman, Les
Publication:Navy Supply Corps Newsletter
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:1619
Previous Article:Expectations of the military intern program.
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