...And Some of the Finest Men and Women Serving Our Country
I just landed back in Kuwait City after spending the day in Baghdad, Iraq. Since 2003, dozens of DOT employees have volunteered to travel to the country to provide support and assistance in local efforts to repair and modernize transportation systems. Just as I spend a lot of time seeing first hand the work men and women across the U.S. do to keep our transportation systems world-class, I wanted to see for myself some of the progress our folks are helping bring about in Iraq.
The work this team is doing is really pretty amazing. They’ve helped get passenger train service back up and running between Baghdad and Basra. They’ve helped Iraqi officials improve operations at the Port of Umm Qasr and they are helping get roads and bridges repaired across the country. And they’ve done tremendous work in developing Iraq’s civil aviation program.
Just walking through the Baghdad Area Control Center, that for the first time ever has relatively modern and efficient air traffic equipment, made it clear how much real progress our team is helping make a reality in Iraq. The Center helps coordinate all air traffic in Iraq over 29,000 feet. And while you might not have guessed it, they keep pretty busy, having handled over 30,000 flights since just last August.
While at the Center, I had the honor, along with Sabeeh Al Shebany, the Director General of Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority and acting Federal Aviation Administrator Robert Sturgell, to present certifications to Baghdad’s first ever tower-certified controllers. These three controllers may be the first, but they won’t be the last. Our team is in the process of finishing up training for an additional 22 controllers that will come on-line over the next few weeks and months.
Much has changed in Iraq, as I was reminded during a meeting with my counterpart, Beyan Ismail Dezei, the Minister of Housing and Construction, which handles transportation issues in Iraq. I was impressed the first time I met her in Washington last year by her commitment to taking advantage of the latest engineering, design and contracting developments as Iraq works to rebuild the nation’s highways.
The day before I arrived, the Minister helped open a new Sarafiya Bridge, even though the original was demolished by terrorists less than a year ago. When you consider all that’s going on in the country, it’s pretty impressive to see them rebuilding and reopening substantial highway bridges in fewer than 12 months.
Minister Dezei is part of a new generation of Iraqi women leaders, and helping her succeed will go a long way in improving the lives of her fellow country women. So today we announced the start of a new technology center for her Ministry that will give her staff the latest information about road and bridge building.
I also had an opportunity to meet with some of the brave men and women serving our country in uniform. Chatting with soldiers like Army Specialist David Lofaro of Saginaw, Michigan and Air Force Staff Sergeant Jason Gonzales from Tucson in my home state of Arizona reminded me how much all of us should be grateful for the duty, courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
Make no mistake, there’s a lot of work left to be done in Iraq, and much of it will be difficult. But it’s just as important to understand how much has already been accomplishment. Everyday, American men and women are working closely with Iraqis to build stability and peace, to construct roads, rails and airports and to forge ties of friendship, understanding and respect that will last lifetimes.