159th SOC provides much needed safety

Story and photos by Sgt. Gaelen Lowers
3rd Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Finding work can be difficult for many Iraqi citizens so, for some workers, making a paycheck comes before personal safety.

Soldiers with the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in the container repair yard at Joint Base Balad, Iraq recognize this feeling and are taking steps to ensure their workers’ safety.

Sgt. 1st Class Andre Wills, CRY noncommissioned officer with the 159th SOC and a Indianapolis native, and Sgt. 1st Class Shelly Brewer, motor sergeant with the 159th SOC and Virginia Beach, Va., native, took it upon themselves to improve the safety of the Iraqi workers by holding a weeklong shoe drive June 19-26.

“I have 450 Iraqi workers here in the CRY and a lot of them come to work in sandals,” Wills said. “It’s a hazard and very dangerous.”

Most of the workers weld and work with large machinery like forklifts, or use heavy equipment like sledgehammers, Brewer said.

“We want to make a safe environment for them,” she said. “Any type of accident could happen down here, and it would be beneficial to them if they could start off with the proper footing. The Iraqis come to work without protective gear because they are happy to just be making a paycheck.”

Because a lot of units are leaving and throwing away old pairs of shoes and boots, they decided to collect those items and pass them out to the workers. They hope to collect more than 400 pairs, Wills said.

“Soldiers are the biggest contributors of old shoes, especially units transitioning out of Iraq,” he said. “Instead of throwing their old boots and shoes away, the Soldiers can bring them to the 159th SOC area or the 13th CSSB consolidated motor pool to donate them.”

There will be a celebration for the workers who have earned their certificate for welding or another job, and at that time the unit will pass out the shoes, he said.

“It shows the Iraqis that we really care about them, that we’re not out here just using them for labor, but we really care and are trying to make a difference for them,” he said.

Hashim Abd al-Amir Mahdi, manager and director of the Miran Villiage Co., which employs all of the Iraqi workers at the CRY, said the shoe drive was bigger than just providing workers a safer environment; it was building a relationship with Iraq and the United States.

“All the units here care about our workers,” he said. “It’s not just that the Soldiers give them shoes. There is an additional thing from this project; the gifts themselves. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s big, but the meaning of them is very big outside (the base).”

Brewer said although the shoe drive ends June 26, they will not turn away shoes or other items donated at any time.

 

news photo
A local Iraqi worker welds a container at the Container Repair Yard June 21 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, wearing only “slip-on” sneakers. To improve safety and the lives of the workers in the yard, the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), is conducting a shoe drive June 19-26. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gaelen Lowers)

news photo
The worn away and tattered shoes of a young Iraqi worker show the safety hazards many Iraqis face at the Container Repair Yard on Joint Base Balad, Iraq. To improve safety and the lives of the workers in the yard, the 159th Seaport Operations Company, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), is conducting a shoe drive June 19-26. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gaelen Lowers)