Iraqis laying building blocks of construction trade

5 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Before beginning the Iraqi Construction Apprentice Program, Sabbar Motar Hommadee used to wake up every morning and spend his days at the local market soliciting any kind of employment he could find.

Since June 12, Hommadee and 14 fellow Iraqis have been learning the ins and outs of the construction world from Navy Seabees.

This is the first ICAP class in Ramadi.

The sailors are with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14, here supporting the 1st Marine Division's security and stabilization mission.

Navy Ensign Michael C. Brown, ICAP coordinator in Ar Ramadi, said most of the men who attend the 12-week course originally were trying to join the Iraqi National Guard but for various reasons were not accepted.

"About half of the students have prior construction experience," said Brown from Lake Worth, Fla. "The other fifty percent came to us with no skills whatsoever."

The first six to eight weeks of the course take place in the classroom, and attendees get hands on training. For the remaining weeks, students receive on-the-job-training from the Seabees.

One of the course's four instructors, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert A. Dodd, said the Seabees teach all of phases of carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.

"We teach all the trades so the Iraqis will have well-rounded knowledge of construction," said Dodd, of Jacksonville, Fla.

Brown said by teaching these skills, Iraqi men will be better able to rebuild the country.

"It's better that the people here take ownership with the work that is done to Iraq," Brown explained. "It's better they do it themselves than someone else doing it for them."

During the on-the-job-training portion of the course, the students have been building a guard shack for the Iraqi National Guard training camp here.

The Seabees constructed the frame of the shack, and the students are responsible for everything else.

"They're putting in the doors and windows, the ladders, the paneling and the electrical system for the air conditioning unit," Dodd said.

He said the trickiest part of the training is teaching the men how to build everything with primitive equipment.

"They don't have the modern tools like we have back in the United States," Dodd explained.  "Everything they have is very basic, and they don't even have proper safety equipment."

The Seabees, who have at least 80 years of construction experience amongst them, pay the men $25 per week for their efforts.

"The wage is pretty low, but it's better than nothing," said Jasim Mohammed Sharmot, one of the Iraqi students.   "I can at least feed my family of ten.  It's difficult to find jobs and training in Iraq."

The rampant lack of employment throughout the country drew most of the men to the course, but working with American forces is dangerous.

"We originally were supposed to have more men come to the course, but most of them were threatened by anti-Coalition fighters," Brown explained. "These men who are here today were trying to join the ING, so they are not afraid of the ACF."

Sharmot said he has not been threatened yet and is not worried about it happening. He's thankful to be getting any kind of training at all.

"I appreciate the Americans for teaching us what they know because now I can get more carpentry jobs when they're available," Sharmot said. "Even if I do get threatened, I will not leave the course because I need that $25 for my family."

After graduating the course, students will receive a certificate of completion and a tool belt donated by the Los Angeles-based charity Spirit of America.

The students will also have more opportunities for well-paying work.