About the Author: Martina Strong is a Foreign Service Officer who served in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs as a Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) with U.S. Division -- South in Basrah, Iraq, from June 2009-December 2010."Transition" was the one defining theme of my 18 months in southern Iraq, where I served as a Foreign Policy Advisor, or POLAD, to U.S. Division-South based in Basrah. As a Foreign Service Officer, I had the rare and invaluable opportunity to work, travel, eat, and live side by side with soldiers of two U.S. Army divisions responsible for security in Iraq's nine southern provinces.
In Iraq, and throughout the world, POLADs -- diplomats assigned to serve as advisors to U.S. military commanders in the United States and overseas -- have become a key element in forging “whole of government” solutions and approaches that combine diplomacy, development and defense in pursuing our nation's foreign and security goals. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have led the way in making all components of our government work better and smarter. This has been especially true in Iraq, where diplomats, aid workers, and advisors have been working closely with the U.S. military to accomplish a historic transition in our presence in and relationship with Iraq.
In Iraq's dynamic environment, “transition” was ever-present and multifaceted. The transition of responsibility for security to the Iraqi Security Forces was the most immediate priority for my U.S. military colleagues and a key step toward the U.S. goal of an enduring strategic partnership with a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq. As the military draws down, civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisors -- are moving into a more prominent role to support Iraq as it moves forward.
I arrived in Basrah, Iraq, shortly before the June 30, 2009 milestone, which saw the Iraqi Army and Police assume responsibility for security in the cities from coalition forces. The transition gathered speed over the next 14 months, as nearly 100,000 U.S. service members returned home to their families, we closed or transferred hundreds of military installations throughout Iraq, and moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.
The magnitude of this extraordinary effort could be difficult to comprehend. I remember one military logistician telling me that during the spring and summer of 2010, when the redeployment was at its height, 1,000 trucks headed south out of Iraq every night. I could see the convoys in the marshaling yards of our bases, and I could see their impact on my home base, Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basrah: the lines in the crowded dining facilities became shorter, large portions of the base became deserted, and the small shops frequented by soldiers began closing their doors.
Meanwhile, changes on base were occurring simultaneously as we were working to transform our “foxhole” into a fully functioning U.S. consulate, which would become one of the cornerstones of U.S. provincial engagement in southern Iraq. The leaders and soldiers of U.S. Division-South -- working hand-in-hand with the Basrah Provincial Reconstruction Team, Embassy Baghdad, and the Washington agencies -- undertook this new mission with unparalleled energy and commitment, drawn from a recognition that the hard-won security gains would only translate into a viable partnership with Iraq if the U.S. diplomats could do their jobs safely and effectively in 2012 and beyond.
Soldiers worked around the clock preparing the Consulate's office space, building the future Consulate's perimeter fence, upgrading air hub facilities, clearing areas designated for the Consulate staff's housing, and working with the Regional Security Office on security and movement plans. The transfer of knowledge and relationships was another key aspect of this military-civilian transition.
Even in a line of work that can take one to all corners of the world, my experiences working closely with the men and women of our armed services in a warzone made my POLAD assignment unlike any other in the State Department. Helping to advance the successful military-civilian partnership was one of the most rewarding aspects of my POLAD assignment. That partnership will remain critical, as we complete the military-civilian transition in Iraq this year and as we continue to strengthen our strategic relationship with Iraq.