Maryland Airmen Contribute to Iraq's Recovery

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David A. Burgess
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As the drawdown in U.S. military forces in Iraq proceeds, remaining troops - including members of the 175th Wing - continue to aid the country on its road to economic recovery.

For an example of how Maryland Airmen are contributing to Iraq's recovery, look no further than Basrah International Airport. While the U.S. military operated from the airport with only basic airport ground lighting and landing aids, awards of Iraqi oil and natural gas contracts in Al Basrah Province are dramatically increasing regional commerce, resulting in a significant boost to the local civil air traffic. As a result, much more robust and reliable airport systems will be necessary to function safely and efficiently as the primary air logistics center and passenger travel hub for southern Iraq.

Lt. Col. David Burgess and Maj. Kipp Thompson, both traditional members of the Maryland Air National Guard's 235th Civil Engineer Flight, are professional engineers working to make this happen. Both are members of a staff augmentation team (commonly referred to as an S-team) maintained by the Air National Guard. S-teams consist of architects, engineers and technicians with the technical knowledge and engineering management experience to tackle just this sort of job

One of the biggest assets of the Air National Guard is the civilian experience its members bring to the military. Although Colonel Burgess is assigned to Contingency Operating Base Al Asad in Anbar Province, he was asked to support Major Thompson at COB Basrah because of his specialized technical background -- at his civilian employment, Colonel Burgess runs an international airport electrical engineering firm in northern Virginia.

At Basrah International Airport, several previous assessments identified discrepancies with international airport standards and proposed solutions. The engineering team of which Colonel Burgess and Major Thompson are a part provided cost estimates and a logical strategy for prioritized repair of the airport lighting and navigational aid systems, with safety hazards and repairs required to operate in all visibility conditions receiving the highest priority.

The establishment of a stable government and the reopening of air transport is not only a springboard for economic recovery, but also for cultural rediscovery. Basrah was once a key location connecting the land routes from Europe to the sea routes to the Orient. This cultural and intellectual center is birthplace of the fabled Sinbad the Sailor. Only 70 kilometers north of the city, where the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet, is the reputed site of the Garden of Eden and home of the some of the largest date palm plantations in the world.

While complete restoration of Basrah International Airport is still years away, the recent establishment of a U.S. consulate at the airport reinforces its importance as a key transportation facility.

Air transportation will be crucial to attracting and supporting investment in reconstruction and development of economic resources. The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority and the Basrah International Airport have an enormous task ahead to plan and execution their reconstruction. However, the plentiful rewards may be no less than the reopening of the Garden of Eden.