Importance of Local Relationships
Local Relationships are far more important than most people realize. My initial introduction to business in a conflict zone was chaotic. Joining a team of replacements with little knowledge of what had transpired prior to our arrival was difficult. We didn’t know each other nor did we know the local individuals assigned to assist us. Under normal circumstances whenever I took on an assignment in a new role, new project, or new company the first thing I have always done was to get to know the people. The people are the most valuable resource regardless of the situation.
Seldom can anything be accomplished
without the assistance and knowledge of local relationships. This situation was no different although maybe more dependent on local resources. At first I didn’t understand the importance of the local Iraqis hired to help us as interpreters or other roles. They were risking their lives and the lives of their families by helping the US. Just coming to work every day to the Green Zone through the security check points identified them as “sympathizers” with the bad guys.
Sarcasm and Humor don’t translate well in local relationships.
Some locals were very adept at learning our way of doing business, others struggled to understand our humor, sarcasm and prejudices. I thought the locals had to be inferior in some way. I couldn’t be bothered with learning much about them or how their knowledge and experience could be leveraged. To make matters worse I was now working for the US Government which did most everything differently than civilian organizations. The government processes and procedures that needed to be followed for the government were very confusing. These procedures often seemed out of place in a war zone.
There was also the “career” contractors that supported the military and civilian government employees overseas and in DC. I’m not sure anyone knows the real figure. I’ve seen estimates that for every one military personnel in a combat zone like Iraq there were at least 4 civilian contractors. So if there were 100,000 US military in a combat zone there could be as much as 400,000 civilians? Seemed that way to me when I went to the military dining facilities.
Many of the “career” contractors were ex-military which provided many advantages. They knew the government systems and had experienced working with government contracting offices. We depended on the government contracting offices to put out the solicitations for the equipment and after our review based on contracting regulations would purchase the equipment.
Local customs are an important aspect of doing business.
The local Iraqi relationships provided an even more important role. They knew the language, local customs, and most of all how to reach out and contact the factory personnel and local Iraqi contracting companies. With the less the optimal wireless networks, no mail, and almost no land lines connecting the factories and businesses this communication knowledge was incredibly important for arranging meetings and factory visits. Arrival at any factory required being cleared through the security check points at the factory gates. This entailed pulling up to the gate with our 4 vehicle convoy and clearing our arrival and entry with the local point of contact. (POC) It took me longer to get up to speed with government acronyms than anything else. Without the locals to assist us with the Iraqi formalities and introductions I wouldn’t have gotten very far.
The point is without the local interpreters none of these meetings would have been possible and gradually I began to appreciate their local relationships with other Iraqis in the factories and government. Later, working with businesses in Afghanistan I became even more trusting of the local assistance and often turned over a lot of the responsibility for conducting business to them, trusting their insights and knowledge more than mine.
One of the interesting aspects of having a business meeting with Iraqis is they would always take notes, very collaborative on what was to be decided, and next steps from the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting one person would have a hand written summary (even if we were meeting in a hotel lobby) of the discussion in Arabic that everyone would sign agreeing to what had transpired. I was initially very uneasy with signing the document when I couldn’t read Arabic. Trusting my interpreter that the document was accurate. Sometimes we would get an English version later by email but the notes were never used against me later implying I committed to something I shouldn’t.
Visa Program for Iraqis
I owe a great deal of our success to these local Iraqi interpreters and co-workers. In this picture at the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone is Layth and Rashid. Rashid was an Austrian Iraqi that had served in the Iraqi military at one time. I believe Rashid is back in Austria. Layth had previously worked for KBR procuring equipment for the world’s largest US Embassy in the Green Zone and currently working in Texas.
There is a lot of discussion today due to continuing challenges in the Middle East that have spilled over into Europe, US and other parts of the world. I’m not familiar with all the visa programs and can’t comment on today’s vetting for visas. One program that I’m somewhat familiar with makes sense to me. It allows for Iraqi citizens that worked for the US in Iraq at risk to their own and family lives to apply for visas. Any of the Iraqis I worked with directly as employees or indirectly at the factories I’d gladly support for entry visas and have. Even today their families could be in danger because they assisted the US. These are good people and deserve the same rights and freedoms that we enjoy in this country. https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/immigrate/iraqi-afghan-translator.html
Civilian and Military Support
This other picture just for humor is with our private security at the compound in the Green Zone. One of my friends sold these rather unusual sun hats and wanted a picture from Iraq with me wearing one. I thought that the guards would make a good background for the pictures. Private security came from all over the world. The US Embassy guards were often from Peru. And one of the guards wanted the hat after we finished with the picture. Never got to see him wearing it though.
There was a small contingent of military personnel assigned to our task force. These personnel as with the locals were valuable for our interface with the military organizations in control of the conflict zone. As our organization grew the use of military personnel to fill key roles. These folks were invaluable but a lot cheaper than “career” contractors.
Lt. Chris shown in the suburban after a little dirt rain acted as operations officers managing all the transportation and logistics tasks for our team. Yes, we had two new black Chevy Suburban’s we could use to get around in the Green Zone. It was not recommended that we walk anywhere in the Green zone. We used the suburban to get to fitness facilities (MWR) at the numerous military bases in the Green Zone, as well as PXs, and the embassy. It was quite thrilling driving in the Green Zone with no speed limits, no stop lights or signs. Just go as you can. At least their drove on the same side of the road as in the US.
Copyright MEA Trading 2016