By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
A Killeen defense contractor and some Iraqi associates have built a prime model of what trust and friendship can do in one of the world's most unlikely laboratories for successful interpersonal relations.
The seven-year-old Proactive Communications Inc.'s building of a satellite communications system for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior nurtured a widely diverse collection of young Iraqis into a native company working in a free-enterprise framework.
"We picked one young man early in our work on the contract to train in what we were doing," said PCI chief executive officer Marc LeGare. "From that personal investment, a native company of about 70 young men has grown into a mentor-protege relationship with us. They're a subcontractor with us now, and we retain no ownership or financial stake. We had a little party and ceremony in December 2005 to celebrate when their company attained more personnel than we have."
PCI has about 30 people working domestically and overseas, including 10 engineers and managers remaining in Iraq.
The Iraqi company essentially is a sole ownership with a second person owning a small percentage. Its name and the names of its personnel are kept confidential to protect them in the volatile environment.
"Most of them have college degrees, a few in information technology, but they come from all disciplines," LeGare said. "Some are dentists, for example. A few others have very little formal education. But they include Sunnis, Shi'a and Christians. They grew by contacting associates who could be trusted, through blood relations, professional associations and other ways. All had to be trainable in what we were doing, but the company grew on trusted relationships.
"Religious hatreds over there can be transcended by common purpose and trust. It's not true that conflict is inevitable."
In December 2003, PCI opened an office in Baghdad's international zone. The company won a U.S. government contract to build the Iraqi Command and Control Network in November 2004 for satellite communications to connect the Iraqi military, training academies, police stations, passport offices and other crucial sites.
"Communications until then were spotty at best," said PCI chief operating officer Larry Hall. "We had to deploy the core of the network in 42 sites for elections in 60 days. Otherwise, elections would have just been impossible."
LeGare said cell phones operated in three sections of the country with each section inaccessible to the others. Communications between critical official sites needed to be complete.
From March to August 2005, when the government was still provisional, the company installed 60 additional sites. After the government became permanent, they received orders for 169 more locations, although the U.S. government canceled a few sites.
"We were faced with figuring out Iraqi law and the banking and import-export system, writing our own documents," LeGare said. "A banking transaction in the United States takes a single day. In Iraq, it would take a week. We were creating an administrative system from the ground up. We had to kick-start, pull and tug. But the Ministry of the Interior was consistent in describing their needs and finally, a process started emerging."
Finally, on Jan. 31 of this year, PCI transferred nine 3-inch ring binders of hand receipts to the Iraqi government, which the U.S. military gave responsibility for the operation, management and care of the communications network.
Hall began working on a technical, legal and financial contract, and PCI became the first U.S. company to sign a contract with the new Iraqi government on May 10 with the new Iraqi company as a subcontractor. The $12 million contract for 10 months calls for PCI to provide secure voice service, encrypted Internet and file storage with overall information technology support.
Before the contract was signed, although the U.S. government was overseeing operations, "We were working under a draft document that would have been considered delinquent and immature in the United States," LeGare said. "We were at risk, but everyone was working in good faith. Things are done under a code of trust in Iraq. The Iraqi government didn't try to manipulate us, but we had to exercise patience because we had to come to a mutual understanding of the maturity of a company. Under Saddam, everything was owned by the government. The people didn't know what private enterprise meant. It's what we were able to teach."
"The most vital thing," Hall said, "is that these young men were able to capture a vision for supporting their own government and develop a sense of destiny about their country. It was a reconstruction of hearts."
LeGare, a former 4th Infantry Division battalion commander and deputy garrison commander at Fort Hood, has been with PCI for four years. Hall retired from the Army last year after working in communications and tactical information technology.
"I returned here because I like Killeen, and I wanted to work for a company with a global reach," he said.
The company is also working in Afghanistan and gave its expertise in New Orleans in the first months after Hurricane Katrina struck. It also has offices at El Paso and Fort Bliss. Its Web site says its work includes "military command and control aspects such as collaboration, database development and manipulation and Army battlefield functional area systems engineering and integration." It also does IT work for private businesses.
A certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Army to the Iraqi company praised its personnel for "courageously travelling throughout Iraq, in high-threat areas on a daily basis, to ensure sites were installed and operational. Their work ethic allowed for 258 sites to be installed, consisting of more than 1,300 computers, 600 phones and 13 servers. Their professionalism and dedication are a great credit and testament to their business ethics." PCI said, "This is the world's largest secure voiceover Internet protocol network over satellite, with state-of-the-art encryption using equipment with a no-penetration record,"
LaGere said, "Our greatest achievement was in providing 70 young Iraqi men with IT skills and helping them capture a vision for supporting their own government with a sense of destiny about their country. We hope this process will be repeated many times to set the country on the road to real freedom."
Contact Don Bolding at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7557