By Air Force Staff Sgt. John Gordinier
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 7, 2009 - Another layer of outer perimeter security, provided by Iraqis, was added here April 1 to help protect servicemembers. The new initiative is staffed by more than 100 Iraqis from the surrounding area.
"This is a tremendous boost to the 'Iraqi First' program," Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Reyes, commander of the Regional Contracting Center here, said. "It provides economic opportunities in the Diyala and Salahuddin provinces while providing our coalition forces the added force-protection measures we need."
The Iraqi First program is designed to encourage Iraqi economic expansion, entrepreneurship and individual development.
The contractor exceeded the 80-percent requirement and employed 100-percent Iraqis, Reyes noted. The initiative also includes women.
The initiative, which includes certification training, improves perimeter and checkpoint security from vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and insurgents, Air Force Maj. Scott Selchert, plans and programs chief for the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Group, said.
"We are attempting to give some ownership of security back to the people who live in the local area because they have a vested interest in [Joint Base Balad]," Selchert said.
"In my opinion, the Iraqis are highly motivated to work and succeed," he continued. "There were 114 jobs offered in the contract, and more than 300 applied."
As it boosts the local economy and the base's security, this multifaceted approach is expected to significantly reduce the risk of IED attacks against the base here.
"I am very proud of this job because I am able to provide security to my people while cooperating with U.S. forces," Arafat, one of the Iraqi security supervisors, said through an interpreter. "I was trained on how to search vehicles and personnel, then I trained my team."
Many of the Iraqis are former Iraqi soldiers and, on the first day, they marched in formation to work, Selchert said. Part of the requirement for the job was a uniform, and some had to spend as much as a month's pay to buy it.
"I have no doubt in my mind that they are mission ready, mission capable and ready to go right now," Selchert said. "Absolutely, this is a step forward."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. John Gordinier serves with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)