One of the men who made quite an impact on me in Iraq was Colonel Logan Barbee. Since our tour in 2004, Barbee has retired as both an Army Colonel and as an Agricultural Professor at the University of Florida. Instead of heading to the country to goof off, he has continued to serve his nation while working for the State Department on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.
The following article about Barbee and his work appeared recently:
Down on the farm in Iraq
by Amanda Marquart of Medill Reports at Northwestern University
Oct 25, 2007 - WASHINGTON -- Carp farms. Not exactly what you expect in the sandy, citified Iraq we see on television. But you can find thousands of acres of watery fields teeming with fish in southern Iraq.
Aquaculture is just one farming industry in Iraq. Wheat, rye, barley, vegetables, mushrooms and olives are also grown there -- so too dates, livestock and honeybees. “Farming – that’s where people’s hearts are,” said American advisor Logan Barbee.
Barbee is the agricultural adviser with the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team. He said similar to many third-world countries, Iraq is in need of “newness” for its agricultural sector – new brood livestock, new seeds and new queen honeybees. He helps the Iraqis acquire these things legally and also brings in experts ranging from artificial insemination technicians for livestock to experts specializing in date palms.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs, are groups made up of U.S. and coalition troops, civilian federal employees and expert contractors. Their purpose is to bolster local authorities in Iraq through coaching, teaching and mentoring of provincial and local government officials in governance and economic development, according to the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction.
Barbee is one of eight agricultural advisers working with the Iraq PRTs. He was an agricultural extension agent for the University of Florida for 25 years before beginning work for the USDA in Iraq. He works with landowners, sheiks, farmers and female beekeepers among a “wide spectrum of Shi’a, Sunni and tribal entities,” he said.
Asked about his work in Iraq, Barbee replied in a thick Southern accent, "We’re not teaching these people how to farm. They’ve been farming since the beginning of time - we can learn more from them."
Despite the common perception that Iraq is full of sandy desert, he said “this is the only Arab country with abundant water.” Barbee’s area, Al Hillah, located 60 miles south of Baghdad, is fed by both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
One thing Iraqis learned from the U.S. years ago was how to use American-imported hormones to increase carp production by 40 percent. The three types of carp grown in Iraq, silver, grass and common carp, are enjoyed as delicacies.
A typical day for Barbee involves leaving an old Baathist hotel in a Blackwater Security-protected convoy. He attends meetings with local people who have agricultural backgrounds and bilingual advisors who help him navigate Iraqi culture. He also may spend time with farmers and agricultural workers on their farms.
Barbee said he takes certain precautions even though the areas he works are secure and "only a few areas are contested."
"We haven’t been shot at for a few months," he admitted cheerfully in a telephone interview from Al Hillah. "The guards are pretty aggressive. But they have to drive fast – we’re only in an armored Suburban with heavy windows and doors. Those vehicles can’t protect us from explosives."
Of the controversial Blackwater security details, he said, "We’d all have to go home if it weren’t for them. Our troops are busy working on the PRTs (reconstruction teams). We need someone to protect us (civilians) while we do what we need to do."
The dangerous environment that teams labor in has led some to question their presence in Iraq.
"In many areas PRTs have to be careful about revealing themselves -- revealing an American face on any project that’s U.S.-funded -- because of the potential controversy or conflict it could stir," said Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Oct. 18.
This admission led Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., to ask, "How do I explain to my taxpayers back home that the American face on a project makes it unappreciated? . . . This is an untenable situation. If they don’t want the help, if they actively despise us, why are we there?"
At a Tuesday hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the reconstruction teams.
"We have found a formula that puts the reconstruction effort at the local level where it can get to the people," she said, calling the PRTs a "real breakthrough" in the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.
By the end of the year, the USDA plans to send in an additional 13 agricultural advisers to join the reconstruction teams across Iraq. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that the Iraqi agricultural sector can grow from 5 percent to 15 percent of the national GDP if fully developed. Already agriculture provides one quarter of Iraq’s employment opportunities.
That makes sense to Barbee. He said, "This is Mesopotamia - where farming began."
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Logan Barbee is quite an American. Keep it up, Colonel!
SFC Chuck Grist