July 12, 2007

116th IBCT troops move into downtown Baghdad

By Sgt. John Slosser
116th IBCT Public Affairs

Soldiers from Virginia's 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team cross a runway in order to board a flight to Kuwait on June 12. The unit received orders assigning them to duties within Baghdad's International Zone. (Photo by Sgt. John Slosser, 116th IBCT Public Affairs.)

BAGHDAD – For many U.S. Soldiers, a deployment to the arid deserts of the Middle East involves dusty tents, searing heat, and limited contact with other American civilians. When the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company entered federal active service in May 2007, they received special orders for a very unique mission.

Approximately 135 Virginia National Guard Soldiers moved into an area of downtown Baghdad known as the International Zone (IZ) and assumed the duties of the Joint Area Support Group (JASG) in late June. A group of Sailors and Airmen were also assigned to the JASG to help round out the needs and capabilities of the unit. The JASG manages the day to day functions within the IZ, a fortified zone roughly five square miles in area. The area contains a fluctuating number of workers and residents that can occupy the IZ with as many as 50,000 people.

“We basically do everything and anything within the International Zone,” said Col. William R. Phillips, II, JASG Commander. “If you compare the IZ to a city back home, (our mission) would be considered mayoral duties. We have people in charge of security, real property, and the building or tearing down of structures within the IZ. Other JASG members are responsible for water, electricity and transportation. It is equivalent to managing and running a city (in the United States). ”

The IZ contains many of the official ministries and palaces that housed Saddam Hussein’s regime and family. It is also the site of several prominent monuments and structures that have come to signify Iraq and its history. The IZ also currently encompasses such prominent places as the Japanese, Australian, and British embassies. Department of State employees, foreign contractors and local Iraqi personnel working and living inside the area add to the international feel of the International Zone.

One prominent palace, the largest Saddam Hussein built, has become the United States Embassy, which also serves as the base of operations for the JASG.

“We literally work in a palace,” said Phillips. “It’s the old Republican Guard Palace, built on the banks of the Tigris River.”

One Soldier commented that the difference between this deployment and his previous deployment was striking.

“We have marble floors, and endless chandeliers. Some people call this place Club Med,” said Spc. Tyree Carr, Embassy Annex Property Manager. “I eat better here than I ever did back in the States.”

“We have internet in our rooms, phones in our rooms, and bathrooms in our trailers. On my last deployment that kind of stuff was unheard of. Look at this evening, its ‘Salsa Night’ out by the pool tonight,” said Carr.

The JASG servicemembers simply work to support the Multi-National Forces Iraq mission. Managing and maintaining the IZ is one way the JASG endeavors to provide the Iraqi leadership with a relatively safe and secure place to work.

“The overall intent is to set the conditions to hand over the governance of Iraq to the Government of Iraq. That is the objective,” Phillips said. “Our goal is to work with the Iraqi government and help stand them up and govern themselves.”

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