Military and civilian officials cut ribbon of Superjet Travel Agency at JBB

Story by Spc. Michael Camacho
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Military and Maitha General Trading group officials celebrated the grand opening of MGT's Superjet Travel Agency with a ribbon-cutting ceremony March 15 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Superjet Travel Agency is designed to lessen delays for third-country nationals traveling for recreational and emergency leave, said Swaraj Bhowal, the MGT manager in Iraq.

There are more than 5,000 TCNs located on JBB, said Bhowal, a Jaipur, India, native. Currently, it takes three to five days for TCNs to travel from JBB to Victory Base Complex, Iraq, where they leave Iraq through Baghdad International Airport to go to Dubai, he said. From Dubai, they will catch a connecting flight to their final destination

"In case of (emergency), what happens is people from Balad … are not able to go home quickly," he said.

Bhowal said MGT approached the Iraqi Based Industrial Zone with the idea of partnering with Superjet Travels, to bring direct flights between JBB and Dubai.

Commercial chartered aircrafts will utilize the flight lines at JBB to travel between the two countries, said Bhowal. Flights to Dubai are scheduled for once a week with the hopes of expanding in the future, he said.

Once the flight leaves, travelers will be out of Iraq in hours, cutting days off travel time, said Bhowal.

"They will come, they will visit and we'll take care of their visas; we'll book their flights to Dubai and any further flights," he said. "Anywhere they want to go."

With TCNs traveling on chartered jets, space will open up on military air travel out of JBB, said Bhowal.

The Superjet Travel Agency has been in development for three months. Depending on the venture's success, other Superjet locations may open in the future, Bhowal said.

The MGT Superjet Travel Agency is a joint venture for the IBIZ initiative that will provide travel services for U.S. forces, contractors, TCN's and Iraqi entrepreneurs on JBB, said Sgt. Maj. Charles Scriven, the senior enlisted adviser for IBIZ with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

"The employment of Iraqis and the long-term goal of establishing a travel agency service outside of JBB … will promote tourism in Iraq," said Scriven, a Columbia, S.C., native

IBIZ assists the development of ideas to aid Iraqi infrastructure on JBB. Together with the Air Force, IBIZ helps start businesses that aid local nationals in the cities close to JBB, said Scriven.

MGT is a well-established company that coordinated the development of the travel agency at JBB, he said.

Scriven said the travel agency will be managed by MGT personnel and provide jobs for local nationals in the area.

The 13th SC(E) continues to set conditions for the growth and success of Iraq after U.S. forces withdraw from the country, said Col. Knowles Atchison, the deputy commanding officer of the 13th SC(E).

"This is a business opportunity not only for the local Iraqis here, but for all the foreign nationals that happen to be guests in their country," he said.

Iraq is a capable country, said Atchison, an Orville, Ala., native. Their recent election and new businesses opening are perfect examples of how successful Iraq is becoming, he said.

The opening of a travel agency on JBB offers opportunity for further development in the area, said Shoukte Ahmed, mayor of Yethrib, Iraq.

"In the future, we hope for the travel agency to be outside the fence and in our city in order to develop our economy and bring more people into our area," he said.

Ahmed said Iraq continues to develop with the aid of the U.S. military and a growing infrastructure. The country is capable of growth, with hope in its new central government, he said.

The opportunity to travel to Iraq will encourage people to experience the history and culture of the country, which has been isolated due to conflicts in the recent years, said Ahmed.