By Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 23, 2008 - At first glance, it doesn't look like much: a construction site with a large wooden box strapped to a forklift, a crane, about 15 Iraqi and Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers, and a small pile of equipment. Such was the humble beginning of a project designed to deter militant and extremist activity, improve public safety and security, and ease the burdens on the growing Iraqi infrastructure.
Street lights are being installed -- solar-powered street lights, to be precise.
"The 4th Infantry Division has been the driving force through this project. [They] came in and said, 'We want to do something to help the people, the Iraqi security forces,'" said Army Capt. Adam Levitt, a native of El Paso, Texas, who serves on a military transition team from 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, as the engineer advisor for 6th Iraqi Army Division.
Levitt, along with civilian advisor and translator Darryl Steadman and about 10 Iraqi soldiers, began to install the first four of 100 solar-powered street lights June 19.
Since the lights are solar-powered, they do not place any burden on the Iraqi electrical grid.
"Right now, the infrastructure won't support [this many new lights], said Steadman, a Denver native who is part of the military assistance team and Iraqi assistance group for 6th Iraqi Army Division. Steadman is currently working with the 6th IA Div.'s engineer battalion. "Although Iraq is working on the electrical grid and the infrastructure, ... it's not quick enough. We need something now, and this seems to be a pretty good solution.
The lights also have other benefits.
"We know this is going to make a direct impact on the populace," Levitt said. "It's removing the darkness, the safe haven for the terrorists for criminal activity."
Areas of little or no visibility around the road lend themselves to bomb emplacement, Steadman said. The lights also will benefit Iraqi soldiers who work at nearby tactical check points and entry control points.
"We're already getting feedback from some of the guys out at the TCPs. [They] are getting pretty excited that they're going to have some light," Steadman said.
According to Iraqi army Col. Ahmed Khalifa, a native of Baghdad, who serves as commander of the engineer battalion, the lights will provide the only light at night for some areas.
The installation of the first lights went smoothly. A group of Iraqi soldiers set the light pole into place and, with Steadman's assistance, made sure it was level and secured into place. Two other Iraqi soldiers, in a wooden box attached to the forklift, bolted the light fixture, solar panel and its support equipment into place.
"They want to be involved in this on a level that will show at least us, as advisors, ... that they can handle this on their own and that they're ready to take on their mission with very little help or assistance from U.S. or coalition forces," Steadman said.
"This project has been extremely rewarding. There is something very special about seeing something evolve right in front of your eyes," Levitt said. "Everybody's picking up a wrench; everybody's carrying heavy equipment. You don't need a translator for that."
Steadman, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as a member of the U.S. military, said that although he feels Iraq still has work to do, the country has come a long way.
"I think this gives confidence to the people. People are driving up and down and seeing lights going in. What kind of message does this give to the people? We're here to help, and we're going forward; we're not stagnant," he said.
The lights, which cost about $4,000 each, eventually will be placed in the Muthana, Doura, Ghazaliya and Abu Ghraib sections of Baghdad and in the city of Taji.
(Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)