Seabees teaching construction skills to young Iraqis
FALLUJAH, Iraq — If everything were this easy, maybe the fighting would be over.
“The language barrier is the biggest problem, but we’re interacting pretty well,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeff Boutot. Boutot and his team are teaching construction skills to young Iraqis.
“For the most part they seem pretty eager to learn and work,” he said.
Boutot, a 27-year-old from Augusta, Maine, and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 are helping run an apprentice program for local men as part of the Fallujah Liaison Team, which was established to bridge the gap between U.S. forces and Iraqi contractors and laborers.
When he met the 11 Fallujah-area men, Boutot said he did not consider them enemies, even though Fallujah has been a hotbed of resistance to the U.S.-led coalition.
“I haven’t felt that way since day one,” he said.
The Fallujah Liaison Team center is on an approximately seven-acre site on the outskirts of Fallujah. The site is called a Civil Military Operations Center, or CMOC. It’s a place where Iraqi authorities, coalition members and local contractors who are bidding on construction jobs can meet.
For security reasons, there are U.S. tanks and troops parked nearby around the clock.
“This is the first functioning [CMOC],” said Maj. Robert Derocher of Riverside, Calif., and the 3rd Civil Affairs Group, who is the center’s commandant.
“We’ve had several people who are trying to blueprint the idea and establish it in other areas.
“It’s a little more risky being out here, but it’s something you do if you want to help the people.”
At the center, the Seabees teach carpentry, masonry, electrical work and plumbing to the young Iraqis, who earn $8 a day plus lunch. They are putting up new buildings at the site.
The Seabees could use a few more translators, Boutot said, to help with the lessons. There is a shortage of translators in Iraq to assist communication between English- and Arabic-speaking people. This team of Seabees manages with just one translator.
The U.S.-Iraqi convergence was awkward at first.
“At first it was like none of us, the Iraqis or us, really wanted to do this,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Hernandez, 20, of Albuquerque, N.M. “Now we’re working together. We feel a sense of fulfillment. We know each other by name. We’ve even got our own handshake.
“We got over that little bump in the road.”
Saad Fadel Aziz, a 23-year-old from a nearby village, said the Americans are kind and helpful. He said that doesn’t eliminate the pressure he feels as an Iraqi working with the foreign occupiers.
“I feel some danger,” Aziz said through an interpreter. “But I hope for security and freedom and settlement and marriage.”