WALSENBURG- We saw Jim and Ann Conley coming across Main street last Friday morning, which was the first we knew they were back in town.
Jim is the county’s Agricultural Extension officer, as well as wearing a half dozen other hats. He′s taking a year’s leave of absence from his job to work in Iraq to help that country repair its shattered infrastructure. He is taking a few week’s break back home before heading back to the Green Zone. His tour will be up in November.
Conley talked about what a mind-shift it was to land in Baghdad- “Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole,” he said. He works mainly inside the fortified Green Zone, trying to work out how to get agriculture re-started in a country where it has lapsed for a generation. “Saddam )Hussein) during the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted through most of the ‘80’s, needed soldiers, so he rounded up all the farmers and put ‘em in the army. With all his oil money, he could buy food, but he needed cannon fodder,” Conley said.
“The majority of farmland is owned by the government, so farmers do not have their own property to put up for collateral for a bank loan, which charge 18 percent interest.”
A lot of the farmland has lain fallow for 30 years, and Conley said such basic things as water ditches have filled in with debris and plants and such. “It’s kinda overwhelming,” he added.
Conley has only been out in the field four times so far- each time wearing as much body armor as possible. He’s not really looking forward to wearing all of the kevlar throughout the summer months- when he left Baghdad, it was 90 degrees already.
Jim has started to keep a blog about his experiences in Iraq; if you’d like to keep up with his adventures, check him out at http://prtagriculture.blogspot.com/.
His link is also available here on www.huerfanojournal.com, under the Extra! Extra! tab.