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Iraq experience brings new perspective

| December 9, 2004 11:00 PM

By Roger Morris Western News Publisher

Nearly two months after returning from Iraq, Mike Greco still jumps to loud noises around him.

³I think everybody is going to have a certain degree of that,² he told a Kiwanis Club luncheon in Libby on Tuesday. ³I really notice loud noises like when a car door slams. The other day I came out of the office and heard gunshots of duck hunters on the river.²

Greco spent nearly six months in Mosul, Iraq, which is about 250 miles north of Baghdad, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

³My goal was to improve living conditions for the Corps employees,² he said. ³So we could recruit more people to go over there.²

Actually, Greco¹s job was more complicated than that. He was handling the logistics of the available fleet of vehicles, living conditions, security issues for the Corps employees and their Iraqi employees, ordering supplies for all those people and providing office space — not only for the handful of Corps employees already in-country but the numbers to come.

Actually his goal was to get the northern district organized and operating so that the people who followed could turn their attention to solving the Iraq infrastructure problems.

³There were 26 people with the Corps north of Baghdad when I arrived,² he said. ³There were 120 when I left.²

He worked seven days a week, 14-16 hours a day and most of the time he didn¹t notice the 118- to 122-degree heat with everything else on his mind.

³It¹s kind of hard to detach yourself from a job like that,² Greco said. ³There¹s a big difference between a guy at the dam here calling me and telling me he broke a Crescent wrench and needs a new one and a guy calling me in Iraq that his vehicle was just blown up, he¹s out of toilet paper and somebody needs to come get him.²

Corps employees who have volunteered for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan

are working on restoring and improving the infrastructure in those countries. They are working on sewer and water systems, the electrical production and delivery systems, oil pipelines, schools, hospitals and army barracks as well as air bases.

Presently Charlie Comer and Dawn Sonju, also Libby Dam employees, are working in Iraq.

³Libby Dam has more people deployed than any other corps project in the U.S.,² Greco said. There will be eight by the end of March.²

Mosul has population of slightly more than a half million people. In the middle of that is Camp Freedom, a collection of trailers surrounded by sandbags and encircled by a 15-foot concrete barrier. It was on the grounds of a palace once used by Saddam Hussein¹s sons, Uday and Qusay.

³It probably wasn¹t the best place to be,² Greco said. ³It was a small base with a small wall separating us from the thousands of people around us.²

Greco said it was a like a jail in the middle of the city. He only left the base, on average, twice a week. When he did leave, he had a security detail of South African soldiers.

³I never went anywhere without at least one of them,² he said. ³When I traveled with the Army in Humvees, they were regular Army locked and loaded.²

He said security is a problem. Workers cooperating with the U.S. on the reconstruction are being threatened by insurgents and some are killed as warnings to others.

For the most part, the Iraqi people want the U.S. there.

³They don¹t want us there indefinitely but they need us,² he said. ³They are hungry for western civilization.²

The problem is the insurgents, many of whom are outsiders, don¹t want to see a democratic society, Greco continued. There are a lot of internal problems between the Shiites and the Sunnis and its further complicated by the country¹s insecure borders.

³I don¹t have a personal opinion on the upcoming election other than if people don¹t feel secure, they won¹t vote,² he said. ³If they won¹t come to work because of security, they won¹t go to vote.²

A change in policy seems to be working on the reconstruction, Greco said.

³We decided to begin rewarding the peaceful areas by building new schools and hospitals,² he said. ³We¹re rewarding the villages and communities that are cooperating with us. That seems to be working.²

There¹s a lot more going on in Iraq than just Fallujah and Baghdad, Greco said. The media is reporting what is happening in Iraq but not all of the good things being done are making the news.

³A lot of things you see in the news aren¹t positive but being in-country for five and half months, you see there¹s a lot more going on.²

Even though he¹s back to work at Libby Dam, Greco continues to work on things he started or set in motion in Iraq. He might have to return for a short period of time in the late winter or early spring.