Civilian Employee Remains Positive, Extends Tour Another Six Months
FORT BELVOIR, Va., July 2, 2004 -- The following article is written by Bonnie Murphy, a Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service employee who volunteered to go to Iraq in December 2003. Prior to her work at Balad Air Base, Logistics Support Area Anaconda, Murphy worked for DRMS out of its headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich. DRMS is a field activity of the Defense Logistics Agency, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. She recently decided to extend her tour in Iraq and is scheduled to return to Battle Creek in January. At the time she wrote and submitted this commentary, she was home on leave in Florida. Murphy was awarded the DLA Employee of the Second Quarter for the work she has performed in Iraq.
I am a Department of Defense civilian and took leave to attend my daughter’s high school graduation. Being home has been wonderful and sad at the same time. I'm appalled at the "news" as it's reported from Iraq. And just as disturbing is the lack of knowledge a lot of people have about what's really going on, why we're there and what it's really like. I'd like to set the record straight.
My job as an environmentalist is primarily the protection of the environment and the disposal of Department of Defense-generated hazardous wastes. I volunteered to go to Iraq, and last December I was selected to set up the first disposal operations in the forward deployed area.
I have been stationed at Balad Air Base, LSA Anaconda since Dec. 28. On several occasions, my work has taken me to Baghdad. I extended my initial tour from 120 days to 155 days, and June 7 I went back to Baghdad for six more months.
Ninety-five percent of the Iraqi people want us there, and it's only a handful of insurgents with weapons who are attacking our bases, convoys and troops. The older generations say that although they may never see the freedoms we're trying to bring to their country, they know their children will enjoy the rights that we take for granted in this country.
I've had the opportunity to meet and speak with day laborers coming on Anaconda. They are grateful for the work and pay they receive. Men have taken my hand with tear-filled eyes and thanked me because they can now provide for their families -- something they couldn't do when Saddam was in power. I've met engineers, pilots and well-educated men who, for the first time since Saddam took office, are returning from self-imposed exile to their homeland and are able to find work on our many U.S. bases.
Before I left Balad, I was able to coordinate the donation of $3,500 of hospital disinfectant and dental amalgam to the local hospital from the DRMS inventory of excess property. Our Balad team of doctors and medics make regular scheduled visits to the surrounding communities to provide medical care and assistance to the people and teach new technologies to Iraqi medical personnel.
People are being taught field sanitation and hand-washing techniques to prevent the spread of germs. Four hundred thousand children have now received up-to-date immunizations. One hundred percent of the existing hospitals are now open and staffed, compared to 35 percent before the war.
On behalf of my organization, the Defense Logistics Agency, and its partner, Army Materiel Command, we're sponsoring a local secondary school. We've received $65,500 of Saddam's money to completely rebuild the school. Our school is only one of 11 schools being sponsored by different units on LSA Anaconda. School attendance is up 80 percent, and for the first time girls are allowed to attend classes.
Our facility engineers and Seabees are rebuilding outdated sewer lines and constructing a new water treatment plant that will serve the entire area. This is being done in every major city. More than 4.5 million people have clean drinking water for the first time.
We're updating and constructing new power plants throughout the country. Now the entire populace receives twice the electric power it did before the war. More than 400,000 people have telephone service for the first time.
The port of Uhm Qasar was renovated so grain can be off loaded from ships faster. Farmers are being educated on better methods, and new technologies are being introduced. Local contractors working on our bases are, for the first time, able to receive lubricant oils, and hydraulic and brake fluids for their equipment.
The newly formed Iraqi Civil Defense Force trains on LSA Anaconda. The teams work and learn side by side with our soldiers, and they are proud to be learning from us and eager to help in the battle against the handful of insurgents making life miserable in Iraq. Every day our troops are finding buried weapons and chemicals that must be disposed of. The dangerous chemicals pose a threat to the environment, health and safety of not only the Iraqi people but the world if they were to come into the wrong hands.
I've met some wonderful soldiers serving in Iraq. As a nation, we should all be proud and supportive of the mission, Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I believe in my job, my country, and I want my grandchildren to always be able to enjoy their freedoms. That's why I'm going back.
Bonnie Murphy, DRMS staff officer, Disposal Operations Iraq, Baghdad