Coast Guard men and women deployed to Iraq are taking part in missions they will draw upon for the rest of their careers. For Cmdr. James Robertson, assigned to United States Forces-Iraq with the Port Advisory Coordinating Element, that life-changing mission just may be taking place outside of his official duties as he works to support the Umm Qasr Women’s Center, empowering local Iraqi women to make a difference in their communities.
As officer-in-charge of PACE, Robertson works with the government of Iraq, port authority and maritime industry to develop and implement a port security program that meets international standards. His four-member PACE team is constantly traveling to engage and mentor area leaders on port security and to assess Iraq’s seaports – vital to both the security and economy of this oil rich nation.
It was on a trip to Umm Qasr to survey community facilities for potential capital improvement projects where Robertson was first introduced to the Umm Qasr Women’s Center.
The Women’s Center is devoted to empowering women in the local community. At the center, women learn basic seamstress and accounting skills that prepare them to own and operate home businesses. The center also provides classrooms where their children can begin a basic education and a get reprieve from the streets of Umm Qasr.
“During my visit to the Center, I saw a great need for even basic supplies at the center,” said Robertson. “I was moved to action by the squalid conditions I encountered there.”
Motivated both by what these women were trying to accomplish and that they were struggling to succeed in the face of financial and societal hurdles, Robertson seized the moment. Through Operation Mailbox, Robertson reached back to his hometown in New Jersey and the Alaska community where his previous unit was based for help.
Combining his passion and relationships with Iraqi community leaders, Robertson’s efforts paid off, in the form of school supplies, toys, sewing materials and personal hygiene items shipped from friends and family back home to support the women and children of Umm Qasr.
Through his actions, Robertson demonstrated both compassion and a keen sense of foreign policy smarts.
“If the Iraqi people can understand that we truly care for their wellbeing, their safety and prosperity, it will open doors of mutual trust.”
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