US Reservists Tutor Iraqis on Water Security

A nine-member team of Arkansas Army reservists, made up of combat engineers and motor pool mechanics from the 489th Engineer Battalion, has found a niche as teachers, according to an article by Amy Schlesing in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The reservists are training Iraqis to take over security for their nation’s Water Resources Ministry — one of the 25 ministries of Iraq’s new government. Security at Iraq’s dams, levees, supply warehouses and other water infrastructure primarily has been handled by coalition forces.

Iraq's water pipelines have been the target of many terrorist attacks in the months since the end of major combat operations, and soldiers guarding the pipelines are equally considered fair game. "We realize it’s extremely important to the security of the country, first of all, and it does save lives by taking soldiers off those sites," said Staff Sgt. Todd Finley of Hope in a telephone interview with Schlesing last week. "I would say the main problem that we’re seeing is sites being looted — mainly in Baghdad. The military is still sitting on the major water structures, such as the dams."

That could change in the next few months. By the end of February, Finley hopes to have Iraqis handling all the security for the Water Resources Ministry. So far, they’ve trained about 800 Iraqi guards for the Water Resources Ministry.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a Washington news briefing Thursday that each day more Iraqis are providing border patrol, helping to secure water and oil lines, and joining the Iraqi army. "The total number keeps going up," Rumsfeld said. "About a week ago it was 56,000 with another [14,000] in training... And now it's something in excess of that."

Included in those numbers is a growing number of women in Iraqi security forces. The 489th graduated its first female class last week. "I think it’s a real positive thing and we hope to carry on the momentum, as far as the women go, nationwide." Finley said.

As they travel the nation, overseeing training of security forces guarding water facilities, the team is slowly learning Arabic and teaching others English. They’ve seen ruins from the beginning of civilization and watched people pull themselves back from despair. "They always want you to sit down, drink tea with them. You get to know each other first before talking business," said Sgt. Brady Hill of his travels around Iraq. "Then they always want you to eat. They’re big eaters, they’ll bring in enough food to feed 20 people for four or five of us."

Hill said that when he was working as a combat engineer, before being assigned to the training team several months ago, he didn’t have the same sense of accomplishment he has now. "I really didn’t think I’d be able to make such a big difference … And every day it’s happening right in front of my eyes. It’s a wonderful feeling," he said.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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