Where Freedom has Meaning

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on October 12, 2006

NOTE:  The following article is from FamiliesUnitedMission.com (now militaryfamiliesunited.org).

(by Polli Barnes Keller, Gulf Region North, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) Tikrit, IRAQ – …Daily, Iraq is featured in western media headlines. Reports of insurgents jam the news waves with doom and gloom. While the dangers are real and bad things do happen, stories of bravery and dedication to ones’ country are lost to the masses.

Bricks and mortar may not be as exciting or as riveting as insurgents ambushing the innocent, but dedication and commitment to rebuilding a country, risking life and limb in doing so is certainly worthy of headline news and the attention of the world.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region North employs 53 Iraqi citizens working in different fields of expertise. From project managers to construction representatives, these citizens are working to rebuild their country and their future in spite of the dangers in doing so.

One such employee is Sa’ad Rasheed, the deputy resident engineer for one of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ resident offices. Rasheed, an engineer by trade and a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, has journeyed through many heartbreaking moments in his life, yet he refuses to quit the mission and remains focused ensuring a better future for his children and theirs to come.

Witnessing the suffering and damage committed to the Kuwaiti people by the government, cultivated disappointment and hatred for the ruthless dictatorship and harsh regime that held Iraq captive. It was 1990 when his hopes and dreams for a better Iraq were restored as he watched the US Forces invade Kuwait.

But these hopes and dreams would soon fade as the war stopped dramatically and the U.S. embargo began. More and more each day, the poor people felt the stronghold of the restrictions put on Iraq while watching the regime grow in strength. Rasheed was again filled with disappointment.

Eight years later, elated with joy, Rasheed watched as the American Soldiers entered Baghdad and toppled statues of Saddam Hussein. Within days, he and his elder brother stood in front of the Meridian Hotel in Baghdad offering their services to the Americans.

While working as a linguist for the U.S. Army Civil Military Operations Center in Mosul, he received an opportunity to work with the 326th Engineering Battalion-101st Division. It was here he gained a great respect for the American Soldier. He saw the great men of this organization as symbols of a high standard of humanity. He witnessed their discipline and respect for their mission and for Iraq.

Having an engineering background, it wasn’t long before the leaders of the 326th offered Rasheed a position. The establishment of the American Field Engineering Support Team (AFEST) opened the door for a new life.

The AFEST team, designed to train Iraqi engineers in making assessments and estimating damage to buildings and facilities, worked with its counterpart, the Iraqi Field Engineering Support Team (IFEST) made up of local engineers in making key plans for all the damaged buildings and facilities in Mosul and the surrounding Northern provinces. Rasheed was the first Iraqi engineer hired.

Within eighteen months, the IFEST team possessed the expertise and capability to work on their own. The team covered most facilities in Mosul including hospitals , clinics, schools, police stations, courthouses, banks, electrical plants, water and irrigation stations, border facilities, grain silos cement, textile and sugar factories as well as oil deposits and refineries.

“The work was pure engineering, not mixed with any expectations or surprises; the common theme was the good relationship with the U.S. and the mutual care and understanding on both official and personal categories,” said Rasheed.

Good things were happening with the reconstruction effort; however the security situation worsened day by day. The engineers began receiving threats. Realizing they had no protection, members of the team began to leave one by one for fear of losing their lives. Rasheed, the last engineer, moved his family three times to stay one step ahead of the insurgents. Finally, no longer able to return to his office for fear of being seen, he decided to resign and the missions came to a stand still.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered Rasheed a position in a northern region where it was safer. It was clear to him that the Corps truly cared about the people of Iraq, so he accepted the position and immediately moved his family.

Unfortunately, the insurgents did not give up. Two months after moving his family to the north, Rahseed’s brother was murdered in front of an internet cafe in Mosul. Still looking for information concerning his whereabouts, the insurgents kidnapped and tortured his 18 year old brother-in-law. The young man escaped during the night and went into hiding in Baghdad.

Still, they did not stop. The relentless team of insurgents went to the young man’s home and threatened his 72 year old father. Swearing Rasheed had left the country, the gentleman paid the criminals $300,000 to ensure the safety of his refugee son. The stress of the event caused the old man to suffer a heart attack. He died a few weeks later. Grief stricken and afraid, Rasheed sent word to Baghdad for the brother-in-law to come north and live with his family.

Again they would be tormented. Information received from friends in Mosul, led to the evacuation of his family to yet another area in the north. The insurgents knew of his location and were on their way.

During this time of fear and unrest, Rasheed continued to work for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Today, he and his family are safe. He travels great distances at his own expense to keep the location of his family secret and to continue his mission.

Working in a safe area and holding the position of Deputy Resident Engineer, Rasheed wants to tell the public and the government officials that he is working with the US Army Corps of Engineers. His hope for the future is that the US and Iraq stay in contact and have more interaction for the good of both countries. He would like his people to participate in training courses and lectures preferably in the U.S. so his country can observe and learn the system of democracy and liberty where it all began; to see the place where freedom has a real meaning.

First published on Oct. 6, 2006 at the Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission blog. Visit the website at the new website militaryfamiliesunited.org.

Questions

1.  Who is Sa’ad Rasheed?  Why does he refuse to quit his mission?

2.  Disappointed in 1990 when the U.S. army left and again when a U.S. embargo bagan, how did Rasheed feel when American soldiers entered Baghdad in 2003?  Why do you think this is so?

3.  Re-read paragraph 8.  Is this the first time you have read about an Iraqi with such high regard for American soldiers?

4.  What type of work did Rasheed receive training to do with the IFEST?

5.  Describe Rasheed’s life after insurgents began to threaten him.

OPTIONAL:
Consider writing to the news organization from which you get your news:
–Go to Congress.org to send an email to the editor of your local newspaper, expressing your opinion on the responsibility they have to publish postive as well as negative stories about progress in Iraq.  Suggest that they contact FamiliesUnitedTroops.com for stories. 
(Congress.org is not a U.S. government website.  It provides websites and email addresses for government officials and media representatives.  For further information about Congress.org, click here.)