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Tester: News and information for Naval Air Station Patuxent River personnel February 17, 2005

Pax Seabee helps rebuild Iraqi navy

Intelligence officials can't agree on total bombs nation has in its arsenal, but highest tally is as many as 15

By Jim Jenkins
NAWCAD PUBLIC AFFAIRS

The United States is a country at war. It's easy to see, simply tune the television to any news network channel. What's not easy to see though is the good our military forces are doing for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

More often than not what the American public sees and hears on the news are the body counts for the day. How many Soldiers were killed today? How are American forces violating the Geneva Convention today? Where are the WMDs? Why are we here?

You seldom here the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who come back and tell how they are helping rebuild two nations from the ground up. How they helped build a schoolhouse so the local children have a safe place to learn. How they are helping two nations stand up on their own under a foundation of American style democracy. News like that doesn't make for good ratings.

Builder Constructionman Daniel Geers, a Seabee now stationed at Pax, spent nine months in Umm'Qasr, Iraq, helping rebuild an Iraqi naval base as part of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team Maritime.

According to Globalsecurity.org, work started in early 2004 on a $10.3 million project to renovate the Umm'Qasr Naval Base for the Iraqi Armed Forces. The project received funding through the Project Management Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The PMO manages the $18.4 billion appropriated by the U.S. Congress to support the reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure. The Umm'Qasr project includes building renovation; construction of electrical, water and sanitary sewage systems; security improvements; dock repair and dredging. The project is important to the Iraqi security necessary to continue with the major task of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure. A key benefit of completing this project is to give the Iraqi Armed Forces the facilities they need to defend their country. Helping Iraqis gain jobs and build industries has a direct impact on their safety and security.

"We were in charge of training the Iraqi Physical Defense Force," Geers said. "We trained about 500 non-commissioned officers, officers and enlisted guys on five new patrol boats they got."

They trained the initial group of Iraqi non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers on how to use the patrol boats, Geers said. Some of the Iraqi sailors were new to the military, but many previously served in Saddam's Republican Guard and Feydaheen. Geers said that the Iraqi enlisted sailors were happy to adopt the "American" way, but feared the Iraqi officers would revert back to their old ways once the Coalition left. If a sailor made a mistake he would usually be shot right then and there, Geers said.

"We had one incident where a patrol boat accidentally got stuck [in low tide] and the captain of the boat sat and cried because he was afraid he was going to get shot," Geers said. "We had to convince him he wasn't going to get shot before we could take him back."

Geers said that the 100-foot long boats, originally from Saddam's arsenal, were refurbished as patrol boats in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for Iraq's new navy.

"We sailed those up from Dubai, [passed] Bahrain and into where we were at in Umm'Qasr," Geers said. "And that was quite the experience because I've never been on a boat before."

Seabees don't go on boats, Geers said. For him it was a new experience.

The Seabees are the U.S. Naval Construction Force. Their motto: "With compassion for others, we build; we fight, for peace with freedom."

Geers wasn't there building bridges though. As part of a multinational team including British, Dutch, Italian and American forces, Geers helped build a navy for the people of Iraq.

"We took them from scratch - they were nothing, just walking in from the street, they didn't have any boats yet - to a full operational navy," Geers said. "Now they're pretty much on their own. They are self sufficient and can do whatever they need to do."

Geers said that the coalition forces trained the new Iraqi navy to patrol the Shatt al Arab river protecting two oil platforms responsible for producing millions of barrels of oil a day. The Iraqis are now protecting their own economy.

Being a key Iraqi port, it was the goal of coalition forces to have Umm'Qasr under British and American control early on in the war. By the time Geers arrived the port was relatively under control and ready for rebuilding. Even though the major fighting in Umm'Qasr had ceased, Geers and his team were still responsible for conducting patrols around the perimeter of the base and occasionally encountered armed thieves trying to infiltrate the base.

Most of the people, Geers said, were very accommodating and happy to be free of Saddam's tyrannical rule.

"Not everybody out there hates us," Geers said. "The people in the south where we were love the Americans. We'd stop, give them water and talk to them. They didn't want us to leave."


Copyright 2005, Newsday, Inc.