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Nelson rebuilds Baghdad airport

It could be an international airport anywhere, but this one connects the world to Iraq.

Walking from a coffee shop with its inviting aromas to the duty-free store where a new Harley Davidson Road King is parked inside, it's hard to believe one is still in Baghdad.

The ceilings of the main terminal are shaped to represent Iraq's favorite tree ... the date palm. And after 21 months of extensive renovations, Baghdad International Airport has the welcome mat fully extended for travelers entering or exiting the country.

Allan Nelson, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District lockmaster at Lock and Dam No. 2 in Hastings and a Hager City, Wis., resident, has been overseeing the $13 million in improvements there for nearly two years and that work is almost finished.

When he started, none of the air conditioning units worked, the sewer lines were blocked and water was pouring from the bathrooms out into the corridors.

He's been involved with rebuilding three lift stations, repairing the plumbing, getting a new potable water filtration system installed, renovating three electric substations, erecting new street lights for the section of highway leading to the airport, adding a new fire detection system, painting the walls and cleaning the carpets.

"We put in two new 2,400-ton chillers and rebuilt the two existing 1,700-ton chillers," Nelson said. "Today, there's plenty of air conditioning capacity."

He's currently working with a contractor who is placing new feeder lines to provide a more stable source of electric power to that area.

"The airport was built in the early 1980s and little was invested on routine maintenance over the years," Nelson said. "Much of the infrastructure there was nonfunctional when I arrived."

New runway light fixtures, 2,600 in total, were replaced, along with 350 kilometers of cable. "The tower now has a new control panel and all the new runway signs and lights can be turned on or off from that one location," he said.

Baghdad International Airport, which employs 1,200 Iraqis, currently has 20 flights daily, transporting 2,000 passengers to and from locations outside Iraq.

"With the improvements, it has the capability for 10 times that amount," Nelson said.

The airport plans to open the newly rehabilitated Terminal D next month and will then temporarily close Terminal C for routine cleaning.

Nelson volunteered to deploy to Iraq as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The 54-year-old has three daughters and will be returning stateside next summer. He plans to retire and find time to do a little fishing with his two grandchildren as he lives on a 40-acre farm near a trout stream.

He appreciates the opportunity to serve in Iraq and help with the airport project.

"I find it tremendously satisfying to walk through the terminals today and see this great facility back to being fully operational," Nelson said.

For more information on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq, visit the Web site

Editor's note:?This story was written and submitted to the Star Gazette for publication by Norris Jones of the U.S. Army.