JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq: As U.S. officials prepare to draw down troops in Iraq, efforts are being made to ensure the effect on the country’s infrastructure is minimal.

Joint Base Balad’s civil engagement program maximizes the base’s resources and abilities and helps more than 800,000 Iraqis in the Salah ad Din Province.

The program is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of State, the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment based at JB Balad.

“The program provides a communication channel between the three entities, which have different missions to support a common goal; working with the Iraqis at the local level to help develop a secure and stable Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Michael Weiss, the civil engagement coordinator.

“We know we will be here through 2011,” said Ben Fluhart, the Department of State Provincial Reconstruction Team chief. “Providing support during this time will go a long way toward developing a good long-term relationship between Iraq and the U.S.”

The engagement efforts aren’t explicit to just a few base organizations, but are being made by units and people across JB Balad to assist the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment in their support of local governance, economy and security.

“The program is not an organization that is doing everything,” Colonel Weiss said. “Civil engagement is more of a vessel to help coordinate and execute. The base’s involvement stems from programs and initiatives being accomplished by the theater hospital, the fire department, security forces, Army personnel on base and many more JB Balad organizations. Altogether these efforts show that JB Balad is a good neighbor to the Iraqi people.”

Since the program’s inception, JB Balad has taken part in many outreach programs in the community including Iraqi children days, training Iraqi firefighters, teaching businesses how to compete for contracts and providing continuing education courses for Iraqi doctors and nurses.

“Iraq is full of skilled and talented professionals,” Mr. Fluhart said. “For example, the doctors here are highly skilled but they haven’t been exposed to the latest techniques or technology. Through training we can bring them up to speed.”

Healthcare and the economy are important; however, some initiatives are a little simpler in nature.

“We have really touched on nearly every aspect of this base’s operations, from how we get our water, to where we dump our garbage,” said Army Capt. Paul Thomas, a company commander within the 1st Batallion, 28th Infantry Regiment. “The civil engagement program has made massive strides toward closing the gap between the base and the community.

“JB Balad and the Iraqi community are really poised to move forward together following an overwhelmingly successful arliamentary election,” Captain Thomas said.

As Iraq prepares for a “New Dawn”, the name for the phase of U.S. operations that begins this fall, the need for the civil engagement program can’t be overstated. The program’s efforts will continue to prepare Iraq to be a sovereign country and strategic long-term partner.