Pentagon Honors Business Leaders for Efforts in Iraq
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2007 Deputy Secretary Gordon England honored 21 American business leaders today in a ceremony at the Pentagon, citing their efforts to revitalize Iraq’s economy.
England honored the group -- mostly private defense industry executives and some former military members -- in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes for their role in adding stability to the war-torn nation.
“This is about security and economic development, and you can’t have one without the other,” England said. He praised the group for its role in reopening factories and making economic assessments in Iraq.
The honorees are the first volunteers to return from the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Iraq. The task force was created in June 2006 under the direction of Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation. Thirty-five participants remain in Iraq.
“These business executives were under fire on a daily basis,” Brinkley said. “Their contribution is really remarkable.”
Honorees, though, said any hesitation they had about working in a war zone was overshadowed by their desire to improve conditions in Iraq.
“People are dying over there,” William Duncan, a factory lead from a technology corporation in St. Louis, said. “If we put people back to work, they won’t plant (roadside bombs) for $200. These people, mostly, are just like us: they want to earn a living and feed their families.”
Duncan signed on to the task force after receiving a call from Brinkley, with whom he worked previously. Duncan’s role was to pull people from various sectors of American manufacturing to go into Iraq’s closed, state-owned factories to determine what each needed to reopen.
“For every person I took over there, 80 people volunteered to go,” Duncan said. “People don’t realize how much the American people want to help out.”
While the Iraqis initially distrusted the American workers, they soon came to realize that the American business people were helpful, Duncan said. “One man cried and kissed me on both cheeks when we got his factory reopened,” he said.
Andrew Erdmann, a consultant from St. Louis, said he and other task force participants had the perfect backgrounds of public- and private-sector and military experience to improve the economic situation in Iraq. The consulting company required that its employees have military or war zone experience to participate on the task force. Erdmann worked for the State Department in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
“I have friends in Iraq, so this was a personal commitment for me,” Erdmann said. “Everyone on the team was motivated by wanting to contribute to this ‘greatest problem.’”
David Adams, a consultant from Chicago, agreed. “I was very excited to be part of the solution of the biggest problem on the planet.”
The task force has caused a “tremendous turnaround” for Iraqis, some 60 percent of whom were unemployed when the task force was created, Brinkley said. The unemployment rate now is below 50 percent, he said.
England reiterated comments Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made last week in saying that “war is not strictly about the kinetics of warfare.”
“You’ve been the nonmilitary instruments of power to make a difference in Iraq,” he told the honorees. “You’ll always be able to say, ‘I did, personally, make a difference in Iraq.”
England also declared that “the surge is working” and said Iraq is “coming back to a stable, rational state.”