One unit’s trash becomes another unit’s treasure
May 27, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ASB, Iraq — The Iraqi army battalion commander here calls it “The Supermarket.”
In fact, Lt. Col. Mohammed Fareed, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade of the 1st Iraqi army calls it “the very best supermarket. When are we going shopping again?” he asks in English with good humor and a smile.
Americans might think of it more with a grimace and call it another name: Dumpster diving.
As the U.S. scales down its shipments of fuel, food and supplies to Iraqi military units, Iraqi commanders like Mohammed struggle to work through a fledgling government bureaucracy in order to up-armor vehicles, fill up fuel tanks and recharge radios.
In lieu of unfilled requests, Mohammed and the U.S. Marine Corps advising team working with him have found a wealth of supplies at the dump in nearby Camp Taqaddum.
It’s some dump. In the past few outings, the Iraqis have pulled out armored doors, Humvee springs, and shock absorbers still in their boxes, said Maj. Craig Wiggers, the Marine leader of the military transition team assisting Mohammed’s battalion.
They’ve found plywood, decking planks, and other materials they add to their trucks and bases to make them more secure. They’ve even found enough among the scraps to turn an old truck into a wrecker that can pick up a Humvee, Wiggers said.
“It’s a little embarrassing as an American” to see what is thrown away, said Wiggers, 37, of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
For an Iraqi battalion commander, the found items are a blessing. Often, even the equipment the Iraqi government supplies has its problems, Mohammed says, pulling out his hand-held radio.
The battalion uses Motorola radios, which haven’t been replaced in two years. The batteries are so worn from constant recharging that each soldier must take five or six on patrol. Worse, Mohammed says, the Motorolas cannot be encrypted against eavesdroppers, unlike the U.S. military’s radio system. They have flashlights without batteries, and no protective glasses for the battalion of 600 men.
Some supplies from the central government are more forthcoming, Mohammed and Wiggers say. In February, the U.S. stopped supplying Iraqi army units with fuel, a tough transition that now seems to be working, both men said.
Another good sign is the monthly payday. Mohammed’s battalion gets paid regularly, the commander said.
Wiggers and a team of 18 Marines have been working with Mohammed since late January. The Marines live next to the Iraqi battalion command center and eat dinner at the Iraqi dining center almost daily.
The Marines do their best to make sure the Iraqi soldiers have everything the Marines have. That sometimes means sharing, the Marines admit.
Mohammed has been battalion commander since July and has 22 years’ military experience. Since taking command, he’s lost 11 soldiers, with 60 others wounded.
In the past two months, the battalion seems to have quelled much of the violence in its area, two small districts within Habbaniyah. In April, only three roadside bombs exploded. As of mid-May, it had been more than five weeks since the Iraqis had taken any enemy fire, Wiggers said.
Tactically, the battalion is ready to go it on the ground alone, Wiggers said, with one main caveat: “Their supply system, it just isn’t up yet.”
Mohammed agrees. “They feel they are good fighters,” he said of his men. “They should have good equipment.”