News: Wisconsin Guard has key role in Baghdad's future October 26, 2009
BAGHDAD - With a few pen strokes and hugs, and two very large keys, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team officially transferred two large properties inside Baghdad's International Zone back to the Iraqi government.
"In terms of square footage of habitable structures, Essayons and Freedom Compound are the largest we've turned over so far," said the 32nd Brigade's Maj. Gregory Schlub, officer in charge of real properties for Joint Area Support Group-Central in Baghdad.
The two properties, formerly used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, total 35 acres and about 380,000 square feet of building space. They include 650 apartments, three business towers, a museum and seven villas.
"I think it's another very important day in the International Zone as we continue to turn properties back over to the government of Iraq," said Col. Steven Bensend, commander of the 32nd Brigade.
Property transfers require much more than handing over the keys, according to Schlub.
"The most challenging part is to ensure that the property is acceptable to the government of Iraq, environmentally, structurally, and that we turn it over in a fully functional condition," he said.
"The handover of properties back from the coalition forces means a lot to Iraq," said Sameer Al-Haddad, secretariat of the Committee for Receiving Real Properties and Camps Office of the Prime Minister. He said these ceremonies signify Iraq's progress, step by step.
"It's great, it's a big job," Haddad said. "It's one of the jobs that is making you feel like you are doing great things to the country, so I'm really happy to do things for my country."
Schlub said the brigade is on pace to turn 26 properties over to the Iraqi government by the end of their deployment.
Haddad said that he can see what these ceremonies mean to U.S. troops.
"I can see the happiness in the Americans eyes," he explained. "They are happy because they feel they have done their jobs - they helped the Iraqi army to stand up and they can hand over the security issue."
Joint Area Support Group-Central is responsible for securing and administering the International Zone, and for transferring most of the U.S.-controlled IZ properties back to the government of Iraq. The JASG-C is made up of Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers from the headquarters of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, along with a small number of active duty U.S. Navy and Air Force personnel.