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Airmen show Iraqi army leaders base operations

by Senior Master Sgt. Trish Freeland
U.S. Air Forces Central-Baghdad

12/10/2008 - TAJI, Iraq (AFNS) -- A handful of American Airmen are helping the Iraqi army turn a run down military base into an operational military hub.

Taji Military Base is home to the country's only national-level maintenance and supply depots, and American Soldiers and Airmen advisers are assisting the Iraqis with everything from water and fuel distribution to management of dining facilities.

The base is one of the largest military bases in Iraq sits north of Baghdad in the rural community of Taji. The base was once a military center of excellence in the Saddam Hussein regime. Today, Taji's streets are lined with battered desert palm trees that provide a glimpse of the base's former beauty. Potholes grab drivers by surprise. Weeds have taken over gates and fences. Some days the base lacks water and electricity.

But amid signs of problems, signs of progress are everywhere. Iraqi contractors are hard at work building new structures to house incoming units. Dining halls, once plagued with unsanitary conditions and food shortages, are now bustling with the laughter of well-fed soldiers enjoying a cup of tea as they share war stories. Iraqi platoons assemble for morning drill, proudly waving their nation's colors.

Lt. Col. Jeri Harvey is deployed to the Coalition Army Advisory Training Team, a division of Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq. She's the senior American adviser to the Iraqi Army Taji Location Command commander, Staff Brig. Gen. Abdul Mahady Sharaque Sabah. She and her eight-person team live and work with the Iraqi army, sharing everything from security concerns to power outages. Colonel Harvey's focus has been to get the general's staff better prepared to help him operate the base.

"What I've seen since I've been here is that everything goes to the general. I'll be in his office and they'll keep coming in and interrupting with this and that problem and there are all these officers just sitting around," said Colonel Harvey, a native of St. Louis.

"I think we're making a lot of progress with his officers and getting them to start doing more. He shouldn't have to direct traffic all the time," she said.

"Colonel Harvey and I are working just like one team, one family," General Sabah said. "We meet every day and sometimes two to three times a day, and we fix all our problems."

One problem that concerns both leaders is the availability of clean water. A unique solution was found by the previous advisory team and continued by Colonel Harvey's team. Tech. Sgt. Collin Adams, a former utilities adviser, deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, found the answer to the clean water shortage sitting in a warehouse awaiting destruction.

"We were able to get a hold of multiple caches of chlorine seized by the Marines when they were doing their sweeps," Sergeant Adams said. "They were going to dispose of it."

Instead of destroying the chlorine, Sergeant Adams put it to use purifying water.

"My main focus was I needed to get disinfected water for the Iraqis and my teammates," he said.

Colonel Harvey's team has continued the practice of using chlorine captured from insurgent caches to help the Iraqis disinfect the base water supply.

In addition, there are five major construction projects underway at Taji Military Base with numerous smaller projects. They are overseen by 1st Lt. Anthony Behney, a civil engineer deployed to the CAATT from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. He's the adviser to the Iraqi army base engineer on all engineering matters. He walks the grounds of each site daily with Iraqi engineers ensuring local subcontractors are completing building construction according to standards of safety.

"They're building dormitories for the Iraqi Army that will hold and feed 2000 basic trainees at a time," Lieutenant Behney said. "They're also building a rifle range that consists of seven separate ranges and a 1,200 meter 50 cal range."

General Sabah, Colonel Harvey and their respective teams are only three months into a yearlong partnership, but both leaders understand what needs to happen to achieve the common goal of a strong, efficient and independent Iraqi army.

"I believe the days and months that go by will prove the Iraqi Army is a good army. They just need more training and more equipment," General Sabah said. "As they get involved in all the missions that are going on, they can do their job as well as the government needs them to."

"The focus right now is to get logistics off the table. We've had to pay more attention to that," Colonel Harvey said. "It's a priority for MNSTC-I and (U.S. Central Command) and goes a long way to helping the Iraqi army be fully operational on their own."

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