Woodland native helps restore Iraq

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 6, 2004

RALEIGH – Dr. Roger McDaniel is safe and sound back at home, attempting to settle into a new job with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS).

However, life wasn’t safe and secure a year ago for McDaniel, a Woodland native and a 1971 graduate of Northampton County High School. For an entire year, McDaniel was on the frontlines in the war against terrorism, serving his country as a Major in the United States Army Reserves attached to the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion. His unit supported the 3rd Infantry Division.

Upon arriving overseas, McDaniel and his unit waited in northern Kuwait until a decision was reached to attack. It was then that McDaniel and his fellow troops experienced the long and rough ride into downtown Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

Life in the desert wasn’t pleasant. McDaniel said the dust storms were the worse part of the journey. Advancing military forces faced 50 mph winds, blowing dust to such an extreme that it often reduced visibility to near zero. Those dust storms would often last for days.

&uot;Since we were on the move, there was no time to pitch tents or to try and make your surroundings a bit more tolerable,&uot; he recalled.

Approximately three weeks after crossing the border into Iraq, McDaniel’s unit reached Baghdad. Once there, McDaniel said he first took notice of the precision strikes made by the allied forces on the enemy. Tanks, artillery pieces, military vehicles and buildings used by enemy forces lay in ruins.

&uot;On one street corner there was an enemy tank completely destroyed, but yet the surrounding buildings suffered little or no damage,&uot; said McDaniel. &uot;The technology we use for the purpose of precision attacks is simply amazing. That technology allows us to take out a target without putting harmless citizens at risk.&uot;

According to what he saw firsthand, McDaniel said the majority of the property damage in Baghdad was the result of looters.

&uot;They took anything that could be driven or carried off,&uot; he said. &uot;They would even go as far as taking the light fixtures, right down to stripping the electrical wires off the wall. That fact alone was one of the major reasons it took so long to reopen Baghdad businesses and restore critical services.&uot;

Once the city was secured, McDaniel put his expertise to work.

As a 15-year veteran of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ State Laboratory of Public Health where he served as the chemistry manager and head of Environmental Services, McDaniel and his team visited and assessed schools, hospitals, clinics, laboratories and other critical infrastructure within Baghdad. He and his team provided assistance in getting those critical services back on line for the citizens.

&uot;What we found were very unclean and unsanitary conditions,&uot; McDaniel recalled. &uot;There was garbage littering the streets.&uot;

Later, Major McDaniel was assigned to the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority that served as the governing body of Iraq until power was transferred to the new government. For seven months, McDaniel worked as an advisory team member with the CPA’s Ministry of Health. His job detailed the reestablishment of the public health services. That included restoring operation of regional and central public health labs, the national drug quality control lab and the food lab. Those labs had basically been neglected for 20 years under the leadership of Saddam Hussein.

&uot;The buildings were in bad repair and most of the equipment was obsolete or unusable,&uot; he said. &uot;Many of those labs were badly looted from the chaos following the war and were lacking in the most basic of supplies.&uot;

With the help of the World Health Organization, CARE and Iraqi public health officials, these critical labs were reopened.

Calling it a &uot;unique opportunity to serve,&uot; McDaniel stressed that he was proud of America’s effort to return Iraq to a country free of sadistic tyranny. He said the efforts given made him feel that a positive difference has been made to significantly improve the quality of life for most Iraqi citizens.

&uot;I received a chance to experience an entirely different way of life than I had been accustomed,&uot; noted McDaniel. &uot;It was a very rewarding experience, but I’m glad to be back in North Carolina.&uot;

In July, McDaniel made a professional change. He is now employed with the NCDACS as a state chemist with the Food and Drug Protection Division.

&uot;We are pleased to have Dr. McDaniel join us,&uot; said State Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb. &uot;His experience with the (state) Laboratory of Public Health will bring a new perspective to the workings of our laboratories and help strengthen our consumer protection programs.&uot;

McDaniel, who received his doctorate in organic chemistry from NC State University in 1981, is married and resides in Raleigh. He is the father of two – a 19-year-old son who is a student at the University of Illinois and a 16-year-old daughter.

He is the son of Ruth McDaniel of Woodland and the late Roger Lanier McDaniel Sr.

(Editor’s note: Certain excerpts in this story were taken from the &uot;42 Capital Crier&uot; – a publication of the District 42 State Employees Association of North Carolina.)