GUEST COLUMN:
Growing a better land
By Col. Randy Fritz

Editor’s note: Those who heard Col. Randy Fritz – who is about to head back for his third tour as a civil affairs officer in Iraq – speak at the Memorial Day ceremony during Territory Days may have noticed how choked up he became as he began detailing the efforts of his soldiers and himself in working with the Iraqis in the rural areas of the country. Possibly as a result, he skipped much of his prepared speech and ended with the words, “Few of us cry when we think of the fallen. We can’t or we may not be able to do our jobs. On Memorial Day, we shed a tear or two as we sing our national anthem and watch our flag wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” Below is much of the speech he left out:

Col. Randy Fritz speaks during the Memorial Day ceremony in the Bancroft Park bandshell.
Westside Pioneer photo        The global war on terrorism cannot be won by just closing our borders and increasing our security levels. This war can only be won by removing the root causes. Most of us who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan see the destitute people with little or no hope for anything better in their lives. Mostly, these economic conditions are the result of dictatorial leadership or the lack of law and order.
       The original plan was for the military to defeat the Iraqi Army and allow non-governmental organizations to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. Unfortunately, the job was too big! Iraq had been neglected for over 25 years. Then the security issues became a complication.
       That left the job to the military. All over Iraq today, there are children going to school for the first time. Soldiers have rebuilt more than 2,000 schools. I personally have rebuilt nine. Military units are rebuilding irrigation ditches, constructing landfills, repairing water treatment plants, providing clean water to rural villages. Constructing sewage systems where none existed before. In some areas, farm cooperatives have been started. The military contributed seed, fertilizer and equipment to help these farmers.
       I have been very active in agriculture in Iraq. After listening to the farmers, I realized they were in a spot similar to where my dad and granddad were in the 1950s. They had difficulties buying supplies at low prices and selling produce at reasonable prices. Cooperative buying and cooperative marketing allowed my father to raise five children and send them to college.
       I met with as many as 400 Iraqi farmers at scheduled meetings. (Scheduled meetings are a danger for us since the bad guys know when and where we will be.) At first, they resisted cooperatives since Saddam created a corrupt model to provide political power to a few of his favorite people. But within a few weeks, the people understood the concept of cooperative enterprises.
       The people of Colorado have helped me in this effort. You sent me more than $20,000 in garden seeds that I distributed to farmers in Salad Ad Din Governate. Farmers grew new crops that provided them with additional income. Most important, you helped me to break decades of farming habits.
       If you went to Iraq and saw the human degradation resulting from Saddam's tyranny, you would never ask government to give you anything except the most basic needs: law and order! Basic concepts in economics that your children learn by age 5 are foreign to people living in the corrupt socialism Iraq had. Imagine a life where…
      
  • Electricity was free, but you only got it if you were favored.
          
  • Gasoline was 5 cents a gallon, but you waited in line for two days to purchase 20 gallons.
          
  • The government bought all of the food and distributed it to the people. You could grow wheat, but if you were not favored or did not pay a bribe, your wheat was not worth the cost of the seed you planted.
          
  • If you did become successful, you always had to be concerned with your neighbor turning you in on some bogus charge. Believe me, you would confess gladly to what ever it was it was by the time the questioning is over.
          
  • You received a monthly food basket from the government that provided most food needs except fruit and vegetables - as long as you did not cross the local government vendor!
           I am not sure why, but I am respected. Because of that, I have been able to obtain private funding from a Kuwaiti donor to build six vegetable packing houses at $2 million each. I contacted a retired Navy man and a retired agricultural expert just outside Nashville, Tennessee. They have been growing produce to feed needy families for years through their small non-profit company. I asked them to create an international agency that could transform the economics of most of the people in Iraq. They didn't laugh. They are now working with the Kuwaiti donor to make these packing plants possible. The first are scheduled to be completed by Jan 1, 2007.
           How will this impact the Iraqis? As many as 50 percent of them have traditionally been farmers. They raise crops for sale, but are at the mercy of the buyer. They must sell their crops or they will spoil in the 120-degree heat. The cooperative packing houses will grade the vegetables, sanitize, pack and cool the vegetables. To start, these vegetables will be shipped to Kuwait and Jordan on the trucks that bring our food to the troops. Any money the Iraqis receive from these products will be found money. Also, we plan to put a small canning plant next to the packing house to preserve the less pretty produce and surpluses.