By Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 8, 2009 - Iraq's first notable tourist, Jonah, hated it. Belched out of a whale and stuck under Ninevah's parching, sweltering sun, the Bible says, he cared more for the plant that shaded him than for the city he was sent to save. Thousands of years later, it's cliché to say Iraq is not everyone's ideal daytrip. But in the six years since Saddam Hussein was deposed, conditions have reached the point at which tourism is now a viable industry.
That's where Army Master Sgt. Dave Cullen of the 34th Infantry Division comes in.
"My job is to increase tourism to Iraq," said Cullen, Multinational Division South's noncommissioned officer in charge for tourism and employment.
Hundreds of thousands of people already travel to Najaf, Karbala and Babil for religious events every year, Cullen said. "Some of the northern provinces in our area have over 30 percent of the economy based on tourism," he noted.
In addition, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has hundreds of historical sites and is the birthplace Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar and the wheel.
"The history of the world starts there," Cullen said.
Unfortunately for history buffs everywhere, nations ravaged by over 30 years of war and tyranny generally do not offer a plethora of five-star accommodations. "They don't have a very good hotel industry or service industry," he acknowledged.
The good news, however, is that Cullen will not have to revive Iraq's tourism sector all by himself. In addition to working with the brigade combat teams and nongovernmental organizations in the area, Cullen will work by, with, and through Iraqis.
"It can't be Dave Cullen going down there and saying, 'I need to set up a hotel,'" he said. "It has to be agreed upon through their eyes."
By working with the Iraqi government, Cullen said, he will be helping ensure a healthy economy for Iraq after coalition combat forces have left the country.
"The increase of tourism by increasing their economy is going to build a safer environment," he said.
Like Jonah and his whale, Cullen and the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division have been tasked with a unique mission: to help make Iraq a better place.
Even if it is a little hot.
(Army Pfc. J.P. Lawrence serves with Multinational Division South.)