EUHS math teacher solves hard problems in Iraq

By Reggie Ellis

For the last 16 years Jim Mainwaring has been teaching students at Exeter Union High School how to solve problems in algebra, algebra II and geometry.

For the last five months he has spent his time solving much larger problems for the people of Iraq.

&#8220We don't truly understand what fear is,” Mainwaring said. &#8220Saddam would drag families out in the middle of the night and execute them or randomly shoot someone to prove a point. The courage they have to go to work on a daily basis is inspiring.”

Mainwaring is Colonel and Chief of Staff in command of the 351st Civil Affairs Command Unit, which coordinates civilian-military relations in Iraq. Primarily, his staff works closely with the Iraqi government with the logistical details of improving infrastructure, water and sewer systems.

Iraq is widely considered to be the location of the Garden of Eden, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet in a lush marshland. Mainwaring said Civil Affairs is working with contractors to build pumping stations and irrigation systems. &#8220If you can get water to the dirt things can be grown. They have been exporting wheat out of the north for many years. Parts along the river look like the Kings River.” However, much of the country is covered by vast deserts and bleak mountaintops because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to spend any money on improvements to the country.

&#8220The brutality of Saddam Hussein and the neglect of the infrastructure had stifled the country,” Mainwaring said during a talk he gave at the Exeter Kiwanis Club's lunch meeting on Nov. 2. &#8220With their wealth of water and oil reserves this could have been the jewel of the Arab world. It's insane. He could have made billions more by investing the country's ability to produce and export.”

Mainwaring was stationed in the north ballroom of Saddam's opulent palace in Baghdad, a sprawling third-world metropolis with little to no electricity, running water or proper waste disposal. Homes are built on small properties with livestock raised in the back yards. There are bombed out buildings next to beautifully homes with open verandas and the wreckage of suicide bombing cars lay next to half constructed walls &#8220graffitied” with images of Tom and Jerry and Bambi and Thumper. From a far, the city looks like Los Angeles, with hanging smog created by dirty industry and constant dust storms.

&#8220When you think of desert you think of sand,” Mainwaring said. &#8220But the sand is more like a fine powder dirt.”

Mainwaring said his main duties were working with the State Department and departments, or ministries, of the Iraqi government to improve basic services, &#8220The things we take for granted,” such as sewer and water systems, trash pickup, potable water and converting electricity from high voltage for use in the home.

&#8220I think most of these people are just like us,” he said. &#8220They just want to raise a family, earn a living and have a decent life.”

And that is exactly what the insurgency is trying to undermine. Mainwaring said as soon as his staff coordinates the repair of power lines or crude oil pipelines insurgents attack them in campaign to show that the new government cannot provide safety and security for the masses. Despite fear of retribution, many people line up for work each day. Some women have to take three or four cabs so that they cannot be followed to work.

&#8220Unfortunately they are being targeted by their own people.” He told one story of a suicide bomber that acted as a labor contractor until about 20 men got close enough to the vehicle and blew it up. &#8220It killed 20 men who just wanted to work and injured about 80 others that were completely innocent bystanders. Every parked car is a potential bomb.”

After years of living in a brutal circle, Mainwaring said the only industry many people understand is stealing, smuggling, bartering, begging and intimidating. Mainwaring's staff has worked closely with the Iraqi police, many who wear masks to protect their families, by explaining the chain of evidence, and the idea of interrogation without physically abusing someone.

&#8220We are working to change the mentality,” he said. &#8220They don't have any experience to do anything without force or intimidation. Violence has always been the answer to survive.”

There are other cultural hurdles as well. Environmentalism is a foreign concept. Many times insurgents destroy portions of the oil pipelines near the water stations. The Iraqi idea of safe drinking water is turning off the pumps until the water drifts downstream.

&#8220They are also into celebratory firing of weapons,” he said. &#8220We are trying to get them to realize that those bullets have to come down somewhere.”

And then there are ways in which we are more similar than you might think. Mainwaring told the intent listeners of how he was invited to dinner by the mayor of Baghdad. While publicly condemning women for wearing revealing clothing, the man happily watched scantily clad women dance on an MTV-esque Lebanese program after dinner.

Television is very popular with the masses because most are illiterate. Mainwaring said most of the posters put up around Baghdad for the constitutional referendum had very few words. Radio and television are far more effective tools in reaching the people.

&#8220That is changing,” Mainwaring told Brian Lovik's class at Wilson Middle School on Oct. 28. &#8220Children are going to school now and learning to read.”

The consummate teacher, Mainwaring talked about watching the birth of a nation and how the Iraqis are facing many of the problems that our Founding Fathers did while forming our Constitution.

&#8220There were deciding if they wanted a federation of regions or a strong central government,” Mainwaring said. &#8220They also had to decide if their government would be based on religion, English common law, or a combination of different models of government.”

Mainwaring, 51, who was back on two weeks leave, returned to Iraq on Nov. 8 and will return in June. He will retire from the Army with 30 years of service on July 2, 2006. He and his wife Olivia have been married for 15 years and live in Exeter with their daughter Quinn, 14. Olivia also has two children, Emily Wollenman, 25, and Jordan Wollenman, 22 who is stationed on a ballistics submarine in Bermerton, Wash.

&#8220These people were ready to be free,” Mainwaring said in a later interview. &#8220I think they were ready in 1991 and may have been more able to take back the country themselves with a little help.”

We wish Colonel Mainwaring a safe return and successful time in helping the Iraqi people build toward a future where they can have the things we take for granted on a daily basis.

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