Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Little More Cheer, Please

I walked out of my barracks this morning into a fabulously beautiful day. No dust at all, no wind, brilliantly blue sky, sparrows chirping, perfect short-sleeve temperatures. Wonderful way to start the workday! Strolled into the office and brewed up a pot of Peet's coffee. Checked my email and found a really nice thank-you note from the president of a company that just finished one of my projects. Looked on a couple of news sites and didn't see much in the way of mass stupidity. Saw a report that the Dow is just over 11,000 again, which is exactly where it was when I first arrived in Baghdad 18 months ago. (Heck, if I'd known that my presence in Iraq was what kept the Dow below 11,000, I'd have left a long time ago!)

So things are going very well right now. I've been working for six months to get a number of new projects launched. The contract for one of them will be awarded within the next couple of days. It's to provide assistance to an Iraqi university to bring their curriculum in line with American accreditation standards. This is a really big deal for Iraqi education: many schools are working hard to rebuild the reputation that Iraqi higher education had many years ago. The American education system is recognized as one of the best in the world, so these schools want to show that they can meet our standards. While a lot of universities here are talking about it, this is the first project in all of Iraq to actually do something. The contractor that we've selected is a good one and has a very effective plan. At the end of this project, the university will not be accredited (that's a multi-year effort), but they'll know what they need to do and will already be started down that road.

We're going to award another contract in a week to help a province develop a master plan for economic development. This one, I think, will pay huge dividends. The economy there is in the toilet: years of neglect and war have pretty much destroyed their industries, unemployment is somewhere around 40%, and they're not getting much help from anybody. But their governor is working extremely hard to turn things around and his staff is very motivated and eager. They just need some assistance in figuring out the best way forward. We have three proposals from contractors with urban planning experience to help the province develop a master plan. We're going to do the evaluation board tomorrow to determine which of the three will get the contract, but I'm really excited about what's going to come out of this. The province is going to get a heckuva good road map and a lot of assistance in lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. A better local economy means more jobs and less reason for people to shoot and bomb.

There's one more project that'll be awarded before the end of the month. We're going to bring on some training specialists to develop a bunch of training courses for one of the Iraqi ministries. They have a lot of unskilled workers who need to be trained on basic operations and maintenance. Things like, "if you change the oil in the diesel generator every once in a while, it'll last a lot longer". Many of these workers are former Sons of Iraq, the militia forces who used to fight coalition troops until we hired them to fight Al Qaeda. All they really want to do is have a steady productive job and take care of their families. This project will give them some new skills that are a bit more useful than carrying an AK47. Our project won't train them all - what we're doing is creating the courses and the Ministry will continue using them once we're done. So this is another project that I've really been excited about.

I'm not going to get to see any of these projects develop, though. My part has been to bring them to contract award. I'm handing them off to somebody else who will get to see them come to fruition. I'll just see a signed contract and then, in ELEVEN DAYS, I'll get on the plane and fly out of Baghdad for the last time. My time here is about done!

So it's a beautiful day in Baghdad, my projects are doing well, and I'm a happy man!

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