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Red Bull Brigade projects model for Iraq

As violence continues to flare in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, Minnesota's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division is counting accomplishments in rebuilding the south central region of the country.

"Where the Red Bull Brigade is operating, there's a lot of success," said Maj. Jake Kulzer, civil affairs officer for the Minnesota National Guard based at Camp Adder near the city of Al Batha, Iraq.

Kulzer said in a Friday morning conference call from Camp Adder that the brigade members are working with tribal leaders and local government officials to improve conditions for Iraqis, most of whom are hardworking people trying to provide for their families.

"We've got very good cooperation in the local area," Kulzer said. "In my assessment we are making very good progress in Dekar Province."

One successful project is a reverse osmosis water treatment plant that takes water from the salty Euphrates River and treats it for pure drinking water. It supplies 10,0000 cubic meters of water per hour, Kulzer said, and alleviates the prevalence of water-borne diseases, a major cause of infant mortality in Iraq. Because the road from the water plant to the villages was impassable, he said the Red Bull Brigade ended up rebuilding the road along the Euphrates that serves about 24 villages.

"One thing you find in Iraq, once you start one project, it leads to two or three others," he said.

A second accomplishment also relates to water issues. The troops rebuilt the entire waterline system for Al Batha, 40 kilometers of pipes, Kulzer said. The city's water supply had been contaminated by sewage leaking into the system. Now, clean water is delivered to 3,000 homes in the city.

In partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers and Iraqi engineers, the brigade also rebuilt an irrigation system to put back into production 15,000 acres which had lain weedy and fallow for more than 10 years. The farmland can support two crops per year and will provide employment for many people, he said.

The brigade also renovated a one-acre park in the center of Al Batha. Although the park has no strategic importance, Kulzer said it makes for positive relationships between the soldiers and the residents. Similarly, humanitarian packages sent by churches, service organizations and individuals in Minnesota help alleviate the needs and pressure from refugees to the area from more violent parts of Iraq.

Kulzer said there is some hostile activity in the Camp Adder area. "There are certain days we don't travel in certain areas," he said.

However, in spite of 120-degree heat and tiring work, Kulzer said the soldiers feel close to each other and have good morale.

"It's certainly a long haul under difficult conditions," Kulzer said. "The guys are feeling like we're making a significant difference."

He said the people of Al Batha were neutral about the soldiers' presence earlier on, but now the people have a more positive attitude. The water and irrigation projects are so successful, he said, that other cities are approaching the brigade seeking similar assistance.