By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 31, 2008 - The noncommissioned officer in charge of force protection here stood amid a crew of smiling Iraqi faces huddled around a large table covered with polka-dotted gift bags and boxes full of toys. Army Staff Sgt. Frank Pflieger prepared to hand out gifts to his crew as a thank-you for the job the men accomplish each day inside Camp Victory.
"I wanted to do something to give back to the people of Iraq and you guys, because you work so hard for me," Pflieger told his men.
Pflieger, of Jacksonville, Fla., is assigned to the Camp Victory Mayor's Cell and is in charge of two force-protection crews. This is Pflieger's second tour in Iraq, and he said working directly with the Iraqi people has given him a whole new sense of appreciation for their culture and way of living.
"The first time I was here, I ran the roads, so I didn't get to interact a whole lot with the people of Iraq," he said.
Pflieger's first deployment began in 2003, shortly after the initial invasion. The stability and peace that exist now were nowhere present during that 18-month tour. Pflieger's mission as a convoy escort forced him to move through the streets with determination and speed. This sometimes meant pushing Iraqi vehicles out of the way to avoid danger.
Nearly five years later and back in Iraq, Pflieger heard he would work alongside the people of a country once riddled with violence. Pflieger admitted the idea made him a little apprehensive, especially because their work would be conducted inside the walls of his own base.
The first of Pflieger's two crews includes about two dozen Iraqi men responsible for filling 500 to 1,000 sandbags a day. The sandbags are used to reinforce bunkers and protect windows. Their work is visible all around Camp Victory, where neatly-stacked sandbags fill gaps between T-walls and surround transient tents where servicemembers sleep.
His second crew takes charge of moving and placing 20-foot concrete walls that border the base and encircle the buildings within it.
"I didn't know what to expect when I came on this tour," Pflieger said. "The last time I didn't have the opportunity I have now."
Pflieger called this deployment "the experience of a lifetime." The longer he works with these men, he said, the more he realizes they're just regular citizens of a country they love.
To thank his men for their hard work, Pflieger contacted his parents, wife and friends and asked for gifts for his crews' children and families.
"I didn't expect the response that I got," he said. "I thought they would send [things] over, but it grew to a much larger thing."
Word spread to other relatives and more friends, and Pflieger received donations from complete strangers. Boxes of dolls, racecars, clothing and diapers came to him over a period of several weeks. In all, about 30 different people sent a box or more each.
"He [is] very good to us, said Ninos Emanuel Esha, a crew supervisor and father of a little girl named Venessa.
"This last thing that he's done for us -- for our kids, for our families -- we are very appreciative for him. It increases confidence between us and the Americans."
Pflieger said he just gave back as he has seen his crews share with him. His workers often bring food from home and cook it on a makeshift grill. They share their local cuisine of lamb over rice and beans, along with stories of their families and children.
"It's actually been outstanding," Pflieger said. "I couldn't ask for a better crew or better supervisor. The relationship I have with them is just beyond anything I could expect," Pflieger said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves with the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)