By JED FISHER
(Editorial comment: Bob Urban, whose Back Again column regularly appears in this space, is on vacation. Substituting today is First Lieutenant Jed Fisher, who is currently serving as a United States Army platoon leader in the First Armored Division in Iraq. He has spent his whole life in the Palmerton/Carbon County area, and "misses it dearly."
Jed has been emailing home to his family about once a week and shares what his life is like in the Maysan province in southeastern Iraq and we thought you might appreciate reading about the experiences of one of our brave servicepeople.)
Dear Friends and family,
Just wanted to let everybody know that I'm doing quite well here in Al Amarah, Iraq. We're still working very hard on various reconstruction projects, for today, and just off the top of my head, I worked on Waste Water Treatment for the city's slaughter house, rehabilitation to a youth center in a small town north of us called Ali Al Gharbi, building additional office in the Provincial Court House compound, a project to purchase a water tanker truck for the Dept. of Agriculture's mobile traning team, a project to improve roads in a small town north of us called Al Kumayt.
For each project, our State Department colleagues are paired with Government of Iraq officials, and the projects we help to fund and oversee are a direct reflection or the Provincial Government's priorities. All of our efforts are based on the notion that we support and enable the Iraqi government, and teach the locals that change and assistance comes from their elected officals, and not always from the US, or not always from their local Skeikhs - the tribal leaders.
I don't think anyone is trying to marganalize the Sheikh's power around here, but it's fair to say that we're now working to educate the people on what it means to have elected representation - you vote for them (or against them) and they in return work for you; or you raise hell and then vote them out next go round. In the past, US assistance was generally given to Sheikhs because we knew that they were the real power brokers.
We also were almost entirely concerned with security, and realized that the Sheiks had tremendous influence in their region/area/village. So we hoped to win over the Sheikhs, and share a give/take relationship of humanatarian assistance in exchage for information and security. If I deployed here a year or two before I did - you can bet that I certainly would have extensive knowledge about every Sheikh in my area of operations. Now, I have considerable background on the local Judges, Mayors, Engineers, Veternarians and Department ministers.
As an organization, we've been forced to change our mindset and approach - but keep some of the same tools. We used to gather intelligence so that we could capture bad guys, and now we're using some similar and much less secretive ways to gather infomation about the needs of our area, so that we ensure the projects we're spending US tax dollars on are projects that will benefit the masses, and "teach the people how to fish" rather than buying them a dozen carp and wishing them well.
I've been the busiest I've ever been in my life lately, which has made the time go by much faster than I thought it would. Today, as a matter of fact (September 5th) is my four-month mark. Doing the math, I sill have somewhere around 7 months left, minus a month for R&R and travel to and from the states. Things are moving quickly, and I know they won't slow down until I start to shake hands with the next group of troopers that will replace us. The temperature is also starting to drop off a bit, its only 115/120 at miday, and somewhere around 90 at night.
Happy September, and happy back to school for all!