The Atterbury Connection
By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
BALAD, Iraq - Soldiers of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, are moving forward with plans to strengthen relations with local businesses near Logistical Support Area Anaconda. The brigade is spearheading efforts to provide local opportunities to not only win coalition contracts, but also generate more resources for rebuilding efforts in Iraq.
The settings could not be more different, but the characters are much the same as a team of Indiana National Guard engineers prepared for a mission. Some of the team members have been tackling missions together for nearly thirty years. The National Guard's Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, in south central Indiana, has been the beneficiary of much of their hard work.
Now, in the arid and distinctly less forested margins of Logistical Support Area Anaconda, they are setting their sites on yet another installation improvement, but an improvement that if successful will have an impact far beyond the security fences and razor wire of the largest installation in northern Iraq.
Lt. Col. John Silva served as the director of public works at Camp Atterbury when he received an email asking him to volunteer for the deployment last year.
"I showed my wife the email that afternoon," said Silva. "She said go."
Silva said his family understands his commitment to the National Guard and serving his country, so his next step was to, in Silva's words "build the team."
Since Camp Atterbury had been federalized in 2003, many of the engineers that trained there part-time, had become full-time support staff. The installation has trained and deployed tens of thousands of reserve component Soldiers as well as Navy and Air Force personnel since then.
"Hands went up when I asked who was interested," he said. But Silva also had to be cautious, knowing that Atterbury had become accustom to the deep pool of skills the citizens Soldiers had brought from their civilian trade experience.
"I had to ensure I was leaving Col. (Barry) Richmond enough folks behind to support the mobilization mission," said Silva. He submitted a list and after some negotiations, Richmond, the installation commander, signed off.
Silva counted no less than ten Soldiers with Atterbury ties that now work with him at Anaconda, and can tick off scores of others that work elsewhere in Iraq with the 76th.
Even with little knowledge of what missions his team might face, Silva felt confident that he had the right mix of skill and leadership. After months of training, the 76th deployed, and the team was given a mission that played precisely to their skills: installation support, and more.
The 'more' has come in the form of Iraqi-Based Industrial Zones, an initiative to help Iraqi businesses tap into contracts that support coalition installations throughout Iraq. The effort, a civil support mission, is battleground on which the National Guard thrives according to Silva.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cobb was tasked to manage the first project, a service center to provide regular maintenance for non-tactical vehicles. LSA Anaconda has several hundred vehicles owned by the military.
Cobb, a maintenance foreman at Camp Atterbury, will now steer his team to help transform an abandoned service center near the Anaconda perimeter into an Iraqi operated automotive service center. Cobb said there is a lot of work to be done to get the center up and running.
"We're giving it back to the Iraqi people," said Cobb, "and we're doing it one step at a time."
The first step was to clean up the building and surrounding area. The building had been used for a similar purpose by the former regime, but had fallen into disrepair. There was no electrical power, the roof needed replaced and the building and surrounding area had become a dumping ground.
Cobb had Staff Sgt. Ryan Phillips, an Atterbury carpenter, take charge of the building. Phillips manages local Iraqi laborers at Anaconda's carpenter shop and relied heavily on them to get the job done.
"The Iraqis have skills," said Phillips. "They may not do things the same way we do, but they can get the job done."
The Indiana National Guard Soldier said his shop and the Iraqis have developed strong working relationships that are fast growing into friendships, and much of what they accomplish comes from both sides' ability to negotiate and compromise.
Although all Soldiers go through language training prior to deployment and are picking up more language skills along the way, Phillips relies heavily on the many Iraqis who have learned English after years of working with coalition forces.
Once the building has been reestablished as an acceptable workplace, a local contractor will be needed to accept the contract. A local sheik whose son holds several certificates and diplomas in the automotive service industry has submitted a bid and is a likely candidate according to Cobb.
Although Anaconda is providing a facility, the Iraqi operator has the responsibility to provide materials, tools and an adequate workforce.
"They'll start off with about six vehicles a day, just preventative maintenance, oil change and lube, safety inspections. But we would like them to be able to do level 30 repairs in the future, replacement of major end items like engines and transmissions," said Cobb.
Cobb says there is also room for growth. In addition to the hundreds of military owned non-tactical vehicles, there are hundreds of other vehicles operated by contractors and other agencies that operate in and around Anaconda. Cobb said the potential is impressive, and although one small business venture does not a counter-insurgency make, coalition forces have expectations.
"The more Iraqis are working here, then we expect there won't be as many attacks," said Cobb. "And we ask... the sheik, to use his influence. And that's to his benefit as well. It'll give him more opportunity."
The next project the 76th will tackle is the establishment of an Iraqi run gravel yard and a reengineering of the materials delivery facility at LSA Anaconda. Sgt. 1st Class Richard Webb, a materials manager from Camp Atterbury, holds the same position at Anaconda. Webb recently made a trip to Contingency Operating Base Speicher where IBIZ was implemented nearly a year ago.
"Webb was the material handling guy at Camp Atterbury, so he was the guy for that job," said Silva.
Other IBIZ projects the 76th IBCT team will support include the establishment of a wholesale and retail facility and a vocational education center, building an even stronger connection between Iraq and the engineers from Camp Atterbury.
Silva said "It started with that email", an invitation to be part of something important, not precisely defined, but undoubtedly challenging and rewarding. And so it is not surprising that the email came from Col. Kenneth Newlin, 76th IBCT deputy commander, state operations officer and former installation commander of Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Holliday – Shelbyville, Indiana
Master Sgt. William Arnold – Bloomington, Indiana
Sgt. 1st Class Tyron McNeal – Fishers, Indiana
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cobb – Columbus, Indiana
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Webb - Worthington, Indiana
Staff Sgt. Ryan Phillips – Martinsville, Indiana
Lt. Col. John Silva – Greenwood, Indiana
Col. Kenneth Newlin – Greensburg, Indiana