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Soldiers introduce Iraqis to trash for cash

An Iraqi national carries a plastic pallet to load onto a truck while at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala Province, Iraq. The scraps gathered are recycled through a local Iraqi company and turned into cash which is used to better the surrounding communities through an ongoing program with the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone.

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Spc. Opal Vaughn
14th Public Affairs Detachment

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq There is a popular saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and it may be as true today as it's always been.

At Forward Operating Base Warhorse, one unit is taking the concept to heart and is getting down and dirty for the good of the community while creating jobs and new opportunities for local nationals along the way.

Since arriving to FOB Warhorse, Forward Maintenance Company, 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, has been staying busy making new job prospects for young, male, local nationals looking for work.

As part of their ongoing program with the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone, the FMC Soldiers have created several jobs, to include filling recycled burlap bags with sand, construction work, plumbing and scrap metal recovery work at a dumpsite.

"A lot of the skills the local nationals possess are a great asset. They are a fix-it kind of people. If they see something broken, they know who (can) and how to fix the problem and get the job done," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Anthony Neilko, the IBIZ officer in charge with FMC.

According to Neilko, the IBIZ has a lot of potential to expand and is just the beginning of many more to come.

"We have a Turkish company, which we've hired to remove all of the scrap metal off the FOB as part of our land field operation," Neilko said. "There is so much scrap and junk that has been building up over the years that people have just dumped, and it needed to get cleaned up. So IBIZ put together this contract and, in turn, as per the contract, the Turkish company has hired all Iraqi's to do the work of removing the scrap metal.

"The local nationals then take the scrap metal to sell in the local communities, and they are able to make a profit off of it," he continued. "It's not a new program, it's just recycling. Recycling trash for cash is something we are more familiar with in the states." 

To monitor the program and to maintain security, the FMC has a crew of Soldiers supervising the Iraqi nationals.

"My crew manages the Iraqis when they come through our area," said Sgt. Troy Waterman, the waste management noncommissioned officer in charge with the FMC. "We search their persons and their vehicles, and we go through all of the items they want to take off the FOB. All of this ensures they are not taking any hazardous or unauthorized materials into the local community."

An Iraqi national youth ties a recycled burlap bag filled with sand while at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Diyala Province, Iraq. Filling sand bags is one of the many jobs provided for Iraqi nationals looking for work created through an ongoing program with the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone. Sgt. Troy Waterman and Pvt. Eric Robinson, both Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone waste managers with Forward Maintenance Company, 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, search through a pile of scraps at Forward Operating Base Warhorse before local Iraqi nationals load the scraps on a truck to be recycled for cash.
An Iraqi national separates scrap metal to be salvaged and recycled into cash while at Forward Operating Base Warhorse. Working at the waste field, separating trash is one of the many jobs provided for Iraqi nationals looking for work created through an ongoing program with the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone.

Soldiers running the waste management point make sure the job they are tasked with is done thoroughly. According to Waterman, each national is searched by hand and is relieved of any unauthorized material, to include any type of ammunition, military gear, weapons and digital media.

"One of the things we've noticed and have taken care of is the desire for copper," Neilko said. "The local nationals cannot take any copper off the FOB, and there is a lot of copper here. The Iraqis want to take it, because it is worth a lot of money on the outside."

Getting this far in the program has not been easy for the FMC. Along the road, the Soldiers have encountered many problems, including taking over for a previous unit, rescreening workers and maintaining security.

"When we first got here, some of the contracts were already established, and some of the workers did not have all of the proper clearances to work with us," Neilko said. "Since we are hiring people out in the local community, a big part of our job is 'who do you trust?' So we went back and rescreened all of our workers. As far as their working ability, all of our workers are pretty honest people, but this can be swayed by outside influences at any time."

He said the Soldiers are especially careful to ensure the wellbeing of the Iraqis.

"We don't want our workers going home and something happening to them on the outside because they work for us," he continued. "We have had a really good working relationship here with the local nationals, and we would like to keep it that way."

Other aspects of IBIZ's ongoing programs for local Iraqis include filling recycled burlap bags with sand, construction work and plumbing.

"We also have an ongoing project which includes the need for sandbags," Neilko said. "This used to be an old dumpsite for busted sandbags. We have the local nationals dump the old ones and refill new bags to be distributed about the post. The bags which are tattered or too busted to use are then recycled and reused at a later date. Meanwhile, it allows us to clean up the FOB as well."

Having an interpreter on hand at all times while learning basic Arabic phrases has eased language barrier problems for the FMC.

"Any of my Soldiers can tell the local nationals to do something, and they kind of understand each other enough to get the job done," Neilko said, adding he believes his Soldiers will build lasting relationships with the local nationals if they make a valid effort to communicate with them.

"The direction of the Army has changed to where we are no longer on a combat mission. Now it's more we are trying to rebuild a nation," Neilko said. "So communication has become that much more important, not only for the U.S., but for the Iraqi people to stabilize their economy.

"Once their economy gets up and running, that means Soldiers won't have to come out here," Neilko continued. "If we do a rotation, it won't be 100,000 Soldiers; it may be only a few thousand."

Starting with the basics is also an important aspect of the IBIZ program.

"It's important that we teach the Iraqis the correct way to do things," Neilko said. "Recycling, I don't know if that will ever be in their nature, but you never know. It could be a possibility in their future. A lot of the waste the U.S. military produces, which is a lot, the Iraqi people use to make a living, and that's very important to us."

As a result of the success of the current contracts IBIZ has, the FMC is working toward creating more programs in the future. A workers' camp is already in the planning stages.

"Instead of the Iraqis wasting gas to come here every morning, (the camp would permit them to live) on post for the duration of a week, allowing them to save more money," Neilko said. "They can live on base. They might be able to work more hours. At least this way, they're not on the road as much, and there is no impending danger to them.

"We treat each local national as if they were a Soldier themselves," he continued. "So making sure they are safe is very important to us. We enjoy working with the locals, and we would like to continue (to) have a successful working relationship with them."