Airmen prepare Iraq bases for transition

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Larry Schneck
  • 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force - Iraq Public Affairs
On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation New Dawn signaled more than a name change for the U.S. military mission. It ended combat operations and started a focused effort on an evolving relationship with the government of Iraq and its people.

Air Force civil engineers are playing a key role in that transition to a new, enduring partnership. These Airmen are working within an integrated team, helping prepare facilities and bases for a transition of forces.

"The larger bases we started closing in June 2010," said Maj. d'Artagnan de Anda, the United States Forces - Iraq basing element lead engineer. "It takes a minimum of 90 days to close a smaller base."

Major de Anda guides a joint-force team including Army engineers. They have returned bases to Iraq since the beginning of the reposturing of military units and transitioning to a future mission that will be led by the Department of State.

Since he started his deployment almost a year ago, Major de Anda has overseen the closure of 80 facilities and installations, with more to follow.

"The basing element team is responsible for the transition of USF-I bases," said Col. John Balzano, the USF-I director of basing, facilities and environmental. "They oversee the execution of an 85-step process to prepare a base for return to the Government of Iraq."

The pace of a turn-over speeds up once the installation gets within 45 days of the base closure date. The size of the base, the particular infrastructure on the base, and the number of people remaining dictates how long the base transition process takes.

Those 85-steps in the process of turning over a base or facility to Iraq includes some large, bulky items to dispose.

Concrete T-walls, which weigh 6 tons and are 12-feet tall, and barriers are removed and disposed of using a program called the Foreign Excess Personal Property process. A specialized team accounts for these items during the accomplishment of a joint inventory. This takes place before the base is transferred to Iraq. Once the Iraqis receive a base or facility, they can use the T-walls where they are or redirect them for another purpose.

Members of the 116th Cavalry Brigade from the Idaho Army National Guard, headquartered in Boise, Idaho are in the middle of a one-year deployment in support of Operation New Dawn and the transition of U.S. forces.

"We continue to assist with any construction projects related to base protection and base closure as the U.S. military prepares to leave the Iraq theater," said Army Capt. Marshall Davis, the Victory Base Complex Department of Public Works construction officer. "T-walls are continually moved around as the U.S. military repostures and force protection needs change."

In some instances, the Iraqi government officials can leave the T-walls in place, or reinforce another installation. For one project, the Iraqis took American T-walls and used them to line a 20-mile stretch of railroad in the northern part of the country where blowing sand was covering the train tracks. The Iraqis used the concrete walls to line both sides of the railroad bed and deflect some of the sand.

One way they are doing turn-over planning is getting together, face-to-face with everyone affected.

American engineers have created a series of meetings throughout Iraq to help plan the reposturing of military forces. The base stakeholders conferences bring together all of the military and civilian leadership on each installation. The dialogue helps establish a road map.

"The basing element team coordinates with the Iraq Receivership Secretariat," Colonel Balzano said. "The secretariat is the sole agency responsible for receiving bases from the American military. When a base transitions back to Iraq, this team of engineers makes sure it happens smoothly and that all U.S. responsibilities are fulfilled."

Followed closely by the meetings is a rehearsal of concept exercise. ROC drills allow the military members responsible for the transition and return of a base to practice and plan the necessary steps to closing the doors and turning over the keys. According to a security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, USF-I must return all bases to the government of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

"We have the complete support from the U.S. ambassador," Major de Anda said. "We have been supporting them heavily as they establish their future, Department of State footprint."