Forestry expert shares ‘humbling’ Iraq experiences

Tyler McGinty

The Society of American Foresters had its biannual meeting with Bakersfield College on April 7 to welcome Dr. Art Gaffrey as he spoke about his rebuilding efforts in Iraq and also to give out a scholarship to one of the student members of the SAF.

From October 2008 to November 2010, Gaffrey traveled in the Al Anbar province of Iraq as part of a provincial reconstruction team, or PRT. Gaffrey specifically helped build the agricultural infrastructure as he led a team consisting of a veterinarian, a crop scientist, a soil scientist and a specialist in herd animals, as well as a team of soldiers that he called his “ever-present protection.”

“It was a humbling experience to see these young marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen walking with you and would literally put themselves in harm’s way for you,” said Gaffrey.

Gaffrey and his team worked in an area that used to be one of the biggest producers of wheat in the area but is now a desert. They helped the area by bringing in tractors, greenhouses and better irrigation systems. They also taught the people how to properly take care of their animals and herds. Gaffrey mentioned that many of the dairy cows were malnourished, and before he left he saw a definite improvement in the animals’ health.

The people Gaffrey’s team lent aid to were sometimes punished by other Iraqis for accepting American help and some of the more conservative citizens wouldn’t accept help from them at all. One of the farmers they helped was attacked with artillery fire almost immediately after Gaffrey’s team left.

However, the people of Al Anbar seemed grateful for the help no matter the danger. When the governor of the province met with Admiral Mullen, who was in charge of Gaffrey’s project, the governor’s first words were, “thank you for sending the agriculture specialists.”

Before Dr. Gaffrey began his presentation, the SAF presented Jeana Wallace with a $500 scholarship that is exclusively for BC.

To win the scholarship, Wallace had written an essay describing her career goals in forestry. She will be leaving in the summer to attend Humboldt State University to major in forestry and natural resources.