News: Nighthawks develop host national workforce program
Story by Staff Sgt. Les Newport
By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
BALAD, Iraq - Hundreds of local Iraqis arrive each work morning at the pedestrian gate of Logistical Support Area Anaconda, bustle through security inspections then are bussed to the directorate of public works' local national workforce program center.
Some of the workers have spent years, since shortly after the coalition invasion, helping to establish and sustain Anaconda as a model for a counterinsurgency logistical hub. They have also learned a lot about Americans, their culture, their language and their motivations.
As units cycle through deployments, the Iraqi workers support Soldiers from across America, the most recent, Soldiers of the Indiana National Guard's 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Sgt. 1st Class James Sarson coordinates the host national workforce and military escort duties necessary which enables the Iraqis to work on Anaconda. After several weeks of sending Iraqi workers on typical details of grounds keeping and unskilled labor assignments, Sarson began to wonder what untapped resources were passing through the gate each morning.
The citizen-Soldier, a food service manager at St. Mary's of Woods College near Terre Haute, sensed that the Iraqi workforce had a lot more to offer, and more importantly, wanted to contribute more.
"They see what's happening here on Anaconda," and according to Sarson, they naturally want to be a part of it.
Sarson began documenting skills in which workers claimed to have training or experience, cautiously. He wanted to be confident they could deliver and had not overstated abilities in order to secure more stable employment. So far, he has not been disappointed.
"What were doing is documenting identifiable trade skills that the Iraqi workforce has," said Sarson. Sarson has identified plumbers, electricians, carpenters and painters through the local national workforce program.
Sarson says the next step is to let Anaconda know the talent that is available: "We're working to build an awareness of skills."
Spc. Ean Blakeley works for Sarson and spends more time with the workers than any other Soldier on Anaconda. Blakeley says there are so many advantages to identifying the special skills and talents of the workforce, that it is probably difficult to gauge all the long-term effects.
"Anytime we send a skilled worker on a project, he takes at least one or two helpers," said Blakely. "I don't know if I can call it an apprentice program, but if I had to put a label on it that's exactly what I'd call it."
Blakely, a technician with Arial Arts Fireworks Displays in Brazil, Ind., said that identifying skill also gives the workers the opportunity to advance and earn higher wages. Blakely was looking for someone with carpentry skills to help temporarily in his work area. He was so impressed with his volunteer's work, he recommended him to the Anaconda carpentry shop. He was hired, given a raise is now guaranteed full-time work.
"He was pleased with that," said Blakley, adding there is a lot of satisfaction for a worker who has an opportunity to work in an area in which they have experience and even formal training in some cases.
Interest in the local national workforce program has come from the Iraqi-based industrial zones initiative, a program to build industrial, retail, wholesale and service support facilities on the perimeters of coalition installations. IBIZ also includes plans for a vocational training program.
If the initiative has a readily available pool of workers with developed skills, or workers with an interest in developing skills, the prospect for success is increased, according to Lt. Col. Patrick Thibodeau, 76th operations officer.
Sarson and Blakely hope the program can not only make a difference in the efforts of coalition forces and the Iraqi government to bring greater stability to the region, but that the local workers can find encouragement in the prospect of a brighter future.