Iraq is a country of extreme beauty, but it also presents extreme challenges, both natural and manmade. Thus, arriving in Baghdad can be a physical and psychological shock and personnel should be prepared. It starts with how the plane lands. As a defensive maneuver, approaching planes typically corkscrew down to a landing strip that appears to be directly below where the planes began their descent. The drop can be harrowing as well as nauseating, and stepping off the plane with a full airsickness bag in hand is not the best way to start an assignment.
As the operational security manager for Black & Veatch, an engineering and construction firm in Overland Park, Kansas, I visited Iraq several times, most recently in May of 2004, to provide security inspections and oversee the security operations of my employer, which has been contributing to programs called Restore Iraqi Electricity and Restore Iraqi Infrastructure. My responsibilities included training our engineering and construction personnel, who volunteered to deploy to Iraq, for the challenges of the mission. I have had the chance to see firsthand what worked best in terms of the pre-mission training and what needed improvement. While elections have occurred since that time, the violence has not abated. Consequently, the lessons learned are still valid for anyone headed to Iraq in the future.