By Navy Lt. j.g. Christopher Deluzio
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 19, 2009 - Women in Iraq have struggled for centuries to carve out a life of their own. Even with the advent of democracy, that struggle continues, and without attention and assistance, there is no telling how prolonged it may be. With that in mind, Task Force Pathfinder members of the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team visited a rug factory managed and staffed entirely by women in Gharraf, a town north of Nasiriyah in Iraq's Dhi Qar province. The factory employs more than 100 women, all experts in the art of weaving fine rugs.
The women proudly displayed their hand-woven rugs, some of which take more than three months of daily weaving to complete. In addition to offering the rugs in local markets, the women will sell their rugs to coalition forces here.
Army Spc. Reya Russell, a civil affairs soldier from Buffalo, N.Y., described the interaction with the women as "an eye-opening experience."
"I experienced first-hand how these women are striving to be more self-sufficient in their society, despite so much hardship," she said. Many of her comrades on the visit shared her sentiments and were impressed by the women.
"The women took such great pride in their work," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Alde of Jacksonville, N.C.
The factory has been in business since 1994, but only recently restarted operations after being disrupted by the war. The improving security situation and renewed interest in their rugs has prompted the ladies to return to their work.
As the Army's first unit to perform the "advise and assist" mission in Iraq, the brigade's mission is providing military support to building civil capacity in three southern provinces. Women's initiatives – a vital part of that civil capacity – are an essential ingredient for promoting stability in Iraq.
Key to this mission is the cooperation among the provincial government, the State Department-led provincial reconstruction teams and the soldiers on the ground with Task Force Pathfinder.
Built around the core of 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, Pathfinder incorporates civilian experts, professional engineers and civil affairs units as it works hand in hand with the provincial reconstruction teams to develop projects and training programs that help Iraqis address a wide range of concerns.
(Navy Lt. j.g. Christopher Deluzio serves with the Task Force Pathfinder public affairs office.)