By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 26, 2007 - New buildings constructed under the guidance of coalition forces are sparking prosperity for Iraqi citizens, a senior U.S. military engineer in Iraq said today. "It's a concept of ownership," Navy Capt. Joe Hedges told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Baghdad. "We're using Iraqi funds to build Iraqi facilities."
Hedges is assistant chief of staff for the engineering directorate of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq. His team is currently working to build military bases, barracks, airfields, schools and a hospital on 12 different sites in Iraq.
"I'm excited," Hedges said. "I think this is a big step in the right direction."
Hedges explained that coalition leaders award construction contracts to U.S. firms who then hire Iraqi workers to actually build the projects.
"What you see is a trickle-down effect in regards to prosperity," he said.
Most large projects take a year to complete, Hedges explained. Within six months of construction, he said, surrounding communities are drastically transformed.
"You'll see more women and more children in the markets, ... a safer place," he said. "You'll see prosperity."
Iraqis also are invited to project sites before construction begins so they can offer feedback, the captain explained, to prevent situations such as when beautiful pedestal sinks were once installed in an Iraqi army barracks, resulting in an unintentional but embarrassing outcome.
"In the Iraqi culture there's a necessity to both wash your hands and your feet," Hedges said. "Since we did not accommodate feet washing, the Iraqis ... crawled in the sinks ... and literally ripped them off the walls."
New latrines, the captain said, now feature feet-washing stations.
"We've learned," Hedges said. "We've adjusted."
Future projects include 30 new police stations to be built in Baghdad to house the vastly expanded, recently recruited Iraqi forces. Hedges said he is confident these projects will have a tremendous impact on the lives of Iraqi citizens.
"It represents ... civil authority ... peace and stability in that neighborhood," Hedges said, and perhaps a lasting legacy of coalition assistance.
"When people go past that police station and know that their community is safer and more secure as a result of it, maybe that's what they'll remember America for," he said.
(David Mays works in the New Media branch at American Forces Information Service.)