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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Rebuilding Iraq, brick by brick
Kenny McMillan inspects the plans
Blueprint for the future
When the soldiers of 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery's E Battery were deployed to Basra in March this year after months of intensive training, they felt they were prepared for everything. They weren't.

It was clear this was going to be no ordinary day at the office.

In front of Battery Sergeant Major Kenny McMillan, shimmering in the dry blistering heat of the Iraqi sun, were three derelict buildings, a wheelbarrow and a spade.

Behind him was his boss.

"So, five classrooms, offices, an accommodation block, a kitchen, rest areas and a mosque please. "Oh and ..we need them in four weeks. OK?"

When E Battery arrived in Basra, the men and women knew their primary role would be to recruit and teach officers at the Iraqi Customs and Border Police training school.

What they hadn't banked on was actually building it. Building it, planning it, designing it and decorating it. A meeting was hastily called.

Sergeant Major McMillan was always an ordered guy back in the UK. He kept tidy notes, had a good eye for a drawing. Perfect - a draughtsman.

It wasn't until things started that we realised how much we'd overlooked in the plans
Paul Bates
Captain John "Taff" Arundel, a bit of an Arthur Daley character, and a man who could get hold of anything, and he liked to use his lungs. Perfect - a foreman.

Not exactly useful with his hands, Battery Commander Major Paul Bates would probably be best in a supervisory role, an overseeing, monitoring, not-touching-anything kind of a role. Perfect - a project manager.

Rough plans

The team then drew up plans. Not as simple a job as they were expecting.

Major Bates gestured wildly at the three buildings with his hands, paced out room sizes on the dusty ground, and muttered general measurements and dimensions under his breath, while BSM McMillan followed on, and drew on what little technical drawing classes he remembered from school to come up with a useable plan.
Vehicle maintenance
Vehicle maintenance is one of the skills recruits are taught

The next stage was to secure funding and a contractor. Meetings were held, proposals were written, letters typed and a number of bids considered from local contractors.

Eventually a Basra-based builder was selected, and after the US$80,000 was secured from various grant aid pots to foot the bill, work began.

"It wasn't until things started that we realised how much we'd overlooked in the plans," says Major Bates. "Seemingly simple things like where plug points should be.

"Then we realised we'd not drawn in the skirting boards, so of course the plug points weren't all 15cm off the ground to allow for the skirting boards, so they had to be taken out and reinstalled.

"The mosque gave us a few problems too. At first we hadn't factored one in on the plans at all - one of the locals pointed out that it might be a good idea! Then we had a few problems making sure the main prayer hall was facing Mecca.

"In the space of two weeks, we were architects, draftsmen, designers, building site managers, decorators and labourers."

Recruitment drive

The training school is now up and running, following a recruitment drive in March. More than 7000 Iraqis turned up to apply for just 1000 places.

Arm badge
The arm badge given to successful graduates of the training school
E Battery is running seven 10-day courses which cover areas such as search techniques, patrol skills, map reading, first aid, Iraqi law, customs regulations, arrest procedures, unarmed combat and vehicle maintenance. On completion of their basic training a CBP officer's salary is 90,000 Iraqi dinar a month (about 34). They also receive Hazardous Duty Pay of 130,000 dinar a month (about 49).

Major Bates says: "Our ethos for the training is to empower the Iraqis to teach themselves. To that end, we first trained a number of Iraqi instructors and now they teach the students.

"We are there in a mentoring role. We provide the subject matter, translate it all into Arabic, teach the instructors and then let them loose on the students."

Once they finish basic training, there is continuous on-the-job training as well as specialist courses for river police and for 'super' instructors who will have more senior roles within the force.

And the recruits have a proper official passing out ceremony too. The soldiers of E Battery attend and the Battery Commander publicly presents each successful graduate with their CBP badge.

"We've built up a great rapport with the instructors and all the recruits and I think it's been a real success.

"I didn't ever imagine when I joined the Army 13 years ago that I would be building a training school then watching recruits we'd helped train graduating from it. It's brilliant to see such tangible results from our time here in Iraq."


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