By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

When the 41st Fires Brigade arrived in Iraq's Wasit Province 10 months ago, there was still fighting in the streets.

Col. Dick Francey led the first American brigade into that area and said last week he wasn't sure what to expect. He was concerned that getting rid of opposing forces would be like stepping on a water balloon - water shifting and expanding the balloon in a section that didn't have pressure on it. It could also be a bees' hive, he thought.

What he found was the Iraq army and police doing "pretty good." The American troops backed off and began to work alongside the Iraqis instead, Francey said April 8 after a visit to Fort Hood's Meadows Elementary School. He was on rest and recuperation leave.

The Iraqi Security Forces are in charge and take the lead on missions, and 41st Fires' troops are working on "professionalizing" them. Security is in good shape, Francey said.

"Activity remains busy across the province, and the soldiers of this brigade are accomplishing amazing feats every day," the colonel wrote in a March message to soldiers and families on the brigade's Web site, "The progress we have seen over the past nine months is nothing short of miraculous."

The next step is instilling a level of responsibility in the province's government and military leaders, Francey said. Responsibility is more than just security, he added.

Francey visited Meadows with two Iraq army officers. It was the final leg of trip that included stops in Washington and Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The experience is giving their leaders an idea of "how we do things," Francey said, and that will hopefully spark some ideas they can take home.

There is an air of enthusiasm in the province, Francey said. The rebuilding won't happen overnight, but it's getting better.

The key to security and moving forward is re-starting the province's agriculture, Francey said.

Families in the area have farmed forever, but sanctions and years of drought have put a halt to production. Agriculture needs to be recovered so farmers can get into the fields and provide for their families, Francey said.

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