TTU alumnus Scott Vick helps rebuild Iraq

The challenges in Northern Iraq left by Saddam Hussein's neglect and insurgent-led destruction does not dim TTU civil engineering graduate Scott Vick's enthusiasm or hinder his leadership in Iraq's rebuilding efforts.

Vick, deployed twice since 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a U.S. Army reservist, is currently the in-country program manager for Tetra Tech, one of eight U.S.-based construction companies rebuilding facilities for the Iraqi Security Forces. He remains confident that repairing the infrastructure and helping construct facilities for the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army is vital to promoting democracy.

"As an engineer, this was a real opportunity to make a difference in the Iraqi's lives," said Vick. "During Sadaam’s regime the infrastructure throughout Iraq was not maintained, and it has not undergone significant upgrades since the 1970s.  Basic services such as water, waste water disposal, electric power generation and distribution, and solid waste disposal largely had been ignored until the arrival of the Coalition Forces in 2003.

"With the natural and economic resources available, there's no reason the Iraqis can not be living as a developed country," he said. "The rebuilding and reconstruction effort will just take time.  The U.S. continues to provide support throughout Europe and South Korea."

From early 2003 until early 2004, Vick supported Operation Iraqi Freedom attached to the 101st Airborne Division. His unit's focus was to provide immediate relief to the Iraqis, especially the children, because during Saddam's reign, funding was placed into the Iraqi military and palace compounds rather than schools, public utilities, or industry.

"We pursued projects that had an immediate impact to the community and repaired more than 500 water line breaks, renovated schools and orphanages, assisted with upgrading electrical distribution in Mosul, and repaired more than 1,200 kilometers of roads," Vick said.

On a return deployment from February to August 2005, Vick supported the Multi National Support Transition Command Iraq (MNSTCI), which is responsible for establishing the Iraqi Security Forces.  MSNTCI is not only recruiting and training the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army, but they are also constructing facilities to move into for newly trained police or soldiers.

During Vick’s second deployment he concentrated on the reconstruction of about 90 police stations in Northern Iraq.  It was during this time that the first IP Stations were being constructed in the insurgent controlled town of Tal Afar.  Once the police were able to safely live and work in Tal Afar, they were able to team with the Coalition Forces, which has resulted directly in the reduction of insurgent activity in this area.

"Many police stations are located near schools," he explained. "When we found a school near a police station, I would have the same subcontractor renovate the school too. The intent was to demonstrate to the community that the effort was not only for the Iraqi Security Forces but also for the future of Iraq."

Currently in Baghdad, Vick directs Tetra Tech's Iraq Reconstruction Program carrying out task orders issued by the Air Force Center of Engineering Excellence.  The focus consists of reconstructing police stations, commando sites, border forts, ports of entry and Iraqi Army bases.  Tetra Tech has developed strong relationships with multiple Iraqi subcontractors to perform the work.  The partnership allows Tetra Tech to share management techniques to allow the subcontractor to work more efficiently, while the Iraqi subcontractors are able to not only provide labor, but more importantly to provide cultural advice.

Vick said he sees efficiency in how contractors rely on military experience and information about what the real needs are on the ground and what projects are most vital to strengthening the infrastructure and improving lives.

The experiences are not without concern and risk, and Vick isn't sure what situations pose the biggest challenges.

"It could be the 125 degree heat; it could be the cultural differences or the language barrier; it could be seeing people that really wanted to help but were afraid that insurgents would kill them or their families; it could be living with no air conditioning from March until October; or it could be separation from your family," he said.

Vick said the risks are managed with great concern for American and local workers. Each construction site is surrounded with four-meter-high, reinforced concrete blast walls that protect workers from small arms fire, rocket propelled grenades, and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices.

"We also visit with the local leader, a Sheik or Mukhtar, prior to starting a project," he explained. "We either employ his tribe as workers or as security. The intent is to provide income to the local community in an effort to have them help the security situation rather than being a problem."

Admitting no matter where you live or work in Iraq it is best not to trust anyone, Vick expressed hope for a much different future if rebuilding efforts continue. He said he sees glimpses of what could be the country's legacy.

"The Kurds have democracy figured out, and it shows in the amount of development and new construction in their cities," Vick said. "Kurdistan gives you hope because you are still in Iraq and feel that the trend is going to trickle down into the rest of Iraq."

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