News: Reconstruction teams become focus of Iraq rebuilding effort
Story by Sgt. Johnnie French
By Sgt. J.H. French
4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
KALSU, Iraq – With the surge of troops into Iraq complete, a new surge is taking place: nation building. Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams, made up of Soldiers and civilians, work together to educate the Iraqi people on the nuts and bolts of democracy.
The EPRTs include members of the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development, and the military. This team concept brings the expertise of the State Department's nation builders, USAID's infrastructure development, and the military's planning and security assets together under one command.
Once security is re-established, the EPRTs can begin working in the communities, rebuilding those areas that have been hardest hit by the insurgency.
One of the major projects underway in the region is to rebuild and refurbish the system of waterways and canals in the Euphrates River Valley, a resource that is essential to the largely agricultural region south of Baghdad.
"In the past, the focus of water projects have been very local and only dealt with a specific farmer's canal or a village well," said Sgt. 1st Class Kristopher Rick, the 4th Brigade Combat Team's EPRT medical adviser. "What we are doing now focuses on the entire region. We are working to improve irrigation for crops, the quality of drinking water, water for infrastructure and ways to reduce pollution both in the area and upstream."
As the efforts of the EPRT begin to take affect, their biggest challenge may be time.
"We aren't building a sand castle to be washed away by the next wave," said Capt. Chris Willis, deputy of 4th BCT's EPRT. "We are building a nation and government that has to stand on its own when we leave and that takes time."
Due to security concerns and other coordination pieces, Willis said they are just now getting into the implementation phase of their plan. "It took a long time to figure out all of the projects going on in the region so we didn't just go back and redo something that had already been done three or four times."
The EPRT began focusing their efforts in seven different model communities ranging from municipal councils to agricultural unions.
"When we say model communities, we don't necessarily mean a neighborhood, we mean a group of people with a common interest," said Tom Timberman, the State Department representative and team leader of the 4th BCT EPRT. "With the help of civil affairs representatives, contractors and (non-governmental organizations) we want to provide the necessary aid to the communities so they are able to get off to a good start. Then we want to teach them how to manage their budgets and use government funding to become self sufficient."