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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Kerry Kachejian, one of the nation’s most qualified soldiers and engineers, having served in and supported reconstruction operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as relief operations during Hurricane Katrina. He is the author of the new book, SUVs SUCK in Combat: Chaos & Valor–The Rebuilding of Iraq During a Raging Insurgency and was recently presented the Literacy Hero Award. Visit his site at kerrykachejian.com.
FP: Kerry Kachejian, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what inspired you to write this book.
Kachejian: Thanks Jamie.
I had no intention of writing a book when I returned from Iraq. However, I spoke at several conferences and numerous colleagues heard my stories, and they strongly encouraged me – in fact demanded – that I “write a book.”
I wrote the book for several reasons:
 To educate the American public. To let them know that there were many good things happening in Iraq other than sound bites about daily car bombings.
 To capture a piece of American history that was in the making.
 To make sure the hard lessons we learned were recorded and captured so they are not repeated by future generations.
I wrote this book as a private citizen. So all opinions in it are mine and not those of the Department of Defense or the US Government.
FP: Share with us your military experience in general and your experience in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.
Kachejian: I served on active duty as an Engineer Office for six years following graduation from West Point. I have been in the Army Reserve for the past 23 years. I’ve been trained in combat engineering skills (demolitions, mine warfare, counter IED, bridge building, fortifications, roads, airfields, etc) and the construction of major facilities (Professional Engineer). I hold two Masters degrees in Systems Engineering (Virginian Tech) and in National Resource Strategy (National Defense University). I have several tactical qualifications (Airborne, Ranger). So I have been trained on the tactical, operational and strategic levels of warfare.
In 2004, my Army Reserve team was sent on an unbelievable mission – to rebuild Iraq while the U.S. military was fighting a raging insurgency. The progress of this mission was so important it had to be reported daily to the Secretary of Defense and often the President.
No military unit had ever existed to perform this mission. So the Army had to create a special new unit – called the Gulf Region Division (GRD). We had to organize it, staff it, equip it, deploy it and go straight into combat and begin to rebuild thousands of projects. This special new unit was called the Gulf Region Division (GRD). I served as the Operations Officer for GRD.
90% of the members of this new unit were civilians – all volunteers. They began the largest, most complex and most dangerous post-war reconstruction project ever undertaken by our nation.
Rebuilding Iraq was a team effort that involved multiple government agencies, ministries and contractors. The size and complexity of the mission was only exceeded by its ambiguity and danger, particularly in the early days of the Iraqi insurgency.
The entire mission started as 2300 projects but the list constantly evolved. It eventually grew to over 5000. Over $18B of US funds were appropriated and billions more of Iraqi oil dollars were also committed. After two years, the unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) by General Casey. Among the projects highlighted in the award justification were:
* 730 schools
* 280 police stations
* 300 water and sewer projects
* 105 village road projects
* 230 border forts
* 90 railroad stations
* 40 public buildings
* 85 fire faculties
* 15 power generation facilities
* 1,400 electrical transmission towers
* 8,600 kilometers of power cable
* Adding 2,000 megawatts to the Iraqi national power grid
* 25 hospitals
* 155 public health care clinics
* Employing an average of 155,000 workers (military-aged men)
Many people put themselves in harm’s way trying to rebuild Iraq, and America should be proud of what they achieved.
Now war is inherently dangerous, and we were not immune from the violence. There were hundreds of attacks and scores of casualties that were part of the daily struggle to rebuild Iraq. I can only remember a few days when our unit was NOT attacked in some form – IED, rockets, sniping, drive-by shooting, or the Iraqi workers kidnapped or threaten. Near the end of my tour in 2004, our reconstruction operations had 45 personnel killed in action (KIA) and 82 wounded in action (WIA). Most of these were contractors supporting the mission.
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