By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - In a region where many men are often judged on their ability to thwart progress, he is counted among a growing number that can make things happen. And he has been making good things happen for his fellow countrymen since long before coalition forces arrived six years ago.
His name is Hashim Abd Al-Amir Mahdi and he is an Iraqi business leader who has been able to sustain long-term contracts with coalition forces and provide valuable jobs for local nationals. Hashim recently took yet another step in his long journey to help restore normalcy to the land between the rivers.
Hashim hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new container repair facility at Joint Base Balad, marking the most recent and largest contract his business, the Miran Company, has negotiated with coalition forces.
According to Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Crabtree, CSM of the Joint Base Balad Mayor Cell Directorate of Logistics, the contract has the potential for saving the US government more than one million dollars a year.
"The last I heard, we have over 10,000 containers [at JBB], and if they needed repaired we had to send them to Arifjan in Kuwait, a country and a half away," said Crabtree. "Then we have to ship them back."
Crabtree also points out that the facility, an Iraqi-based industrial zone project, is a catalyst for continued progress in Iraq, providing jobs for Sons of Iraq. The group has been given considerable credit for supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to bring peace to the region.
He has also worked with Hashim since arriving with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat team last March. Crabtree describes the Iraqi businessman as someone any westerner would recognize in small town America.
"He's the local entrepreneur, the local guy you go to when you need to get something done," said Crabtree. "He can work with coalition forces and local leaders."
Crabtree says Hashim's ability to reach across cultures and help others work through challenges has made a difference that may be reflected in a recent name change at the largest logistical base in Iraq. Although the installation was recently renamed Joint Base Balad, Crabtree says more importantly the nickname 'Mortaritaville' is rarely heard on a base once infamous for daily indirect fire attacks.
As local leaders have worked to increase security, local business leaders and sheiks have forged an alliance to move forward with economic development opportunities like the container repair facility. A tertiary effect has been diminishing returns for insurgents according to Crabtree.
Hashim's ventures have drawn the attention of Multi-National Forces - Iraq and prompted the visit of Rear Admiral Kathleen Dussault, commander of Joint Contracting Command, Multi-National Force - Iraq. Dussault is responsible for military contracting throughout Iraq and the force behind Iraqi First, an initiative to give priority to Iraqi contractors who use Iraqi labor.
Dussault talked and listened to local Iraqi leaders and workers during the event and praised the efforts of joint efforts of all in attendance.
During an interview in Baghdad in July, Dussalt said that the JCC pursues business opportunities that, at their heart, have two important goals.
"One, to give priority to Iraqi firms for leading roles in rebuilding this nation, and two to encourage these firms to be participants in growing the Iraqi economy," said Dussalt.
Dussalt congratulated Hashim for his success and helping to deliver what she describes as "the standard of living Iraqis so richly deserve."
With an infectious enthusiasm that kept celebrants in the 100-plus-heat far longer than normal, Hashim emphasized that local Iraqis – once afraid to approach coalition forces – are now overwhelmingly encouraged by the prospect of working with them for progress.
"Before there were maybe eighteen or nineteen companies doing business [with Joint Base Balad], "said Hashim. "Now there are 150 companies, maybe more, have contracts."
Hashim also said that IBIZ programs are providing a brighter future for local Iraqis: "If you go to the East gate just ask anyone, he will tell you how much advantage he already [has]," said Hashim.
According to Hashim, the training integrated into IBIZ initiatives has also motivated more Iraqis to hope for a better future for their families by offering them opportunities to become skilled laborers.
"Every day laborers come to my house looking for a job, and now... we have the chance to put him in the job," he said.
This work, Iraqis put proud face on budding businesses at Joint Base Balad, by SSG Les Newport, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.