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Double Duty: USDA Employee Returns from Iraq

Story by Jaime Tankersley

When the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard returned from a 10 month deployment to Iraq, there was one soldier ready to return to his civilian duties in Howard County and aid in the restoration of our natural resources. Major General Eddy M. Spurgin, became the Commanding General for the Division on March 27, 2009, but when not on active duty he serves as the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist in Big Spring, Texas.

Originally from Anson, Spurgin has been active in the military for over three decades. While enrolled at Texas A&M University he was in the Corps of Cadets and has been part of the Texas Army National Guard since that time. His typical daily duties with the NRCS in Howard County involve helping farmers and ranchers make resource-conscious land management decisions, as well as manage several employees.

Spurgin received notice in July, 2009 that he would be taking a leave of absence from his federal position and his scenery and duties would soon change.

"After our division was mobilized, we were sent to Joint Base Lewis McCord in Washington State to receive our final training in preparation for deployment to southern Iraq," Spurgin said. "We essentially had four missions to accomplish while overseas; advise, train, and assist the Iraqi Security Forces; close down or transfer US bases to the Government of Iraq; conduct counter-terrorism operations; and transition the military mission in Iraq to the U.S. State Department."

Major General Spurgin was responsible for all combat and stability operations of U.S. forces in the southern nine provinces of Iraq, focused on achieving the strategic objectives of the United States. He was responsible for the actions, welfare, and sustainment of the more than 10,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsman, government civilians, contractors, and local or third country nationals with his Area of Operations. Within a 10 month time frame, his forces worked with all Iraqi security forces, began to close bases and move military equipment out of Iraq, and provided security to the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). PRTs are small civilian-military units that support reconstruction efforts in unstable areas and assist local units of government to deliver goods and services to their constituents.

PRTs, backed with financial support and working knowledge, help install agriculture practices such as drip irrigation, green houses, and practices to improve production, water quantity, and water quality. They also educate local and provincial government officials on rule of law, budget planning and execution, and providing essential services to the population.

"One of our major responsibilities was to provide security to the PRT. Members of the PRT may be from AgriLife Extension, other USDA agencies, Department of Justice, colleges -- really anyone who can provide education and resources to the local population," Spurgin shares.

Spurgin's troops supported the PRT and enabled them to educate the people and apply healing management practices to the land. Their support allowed the reconstruction team the time and peace of mind to aid in areas of agriculture, budgeting, government, and overall local community structure.

Something Spurgin never took for granted was his solid agriculture foundation, layered with an understanding of similar terrain and working conditions. NRCS offered a strand of familiarity not only to the mission his troops set forth to accomplish, but gave him an avenue to communicate with members of the PRT team and the local population.

"The National Guard gives you the skills to work and communicate with a variety of people," Spurgin said. "Being a USDA-NRCS employee was value-added in southern Iraq because of the amount of agriculture that exists along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It gave me a common link with the members of the PRT and made communication much easier."

Spurgin had a front row seat to the progress his division made over 10 months, and the impact our country has made over almost a decade in Iraq.

"Challenges still remain; but the population has made progress. They can defend themselves from an internal insurgency and they have made positive changes both politically and within their military, but they still have a ways to go," Spurgin notes.

"When you're attempting to bring together a country and parliament of different ethnicities and beliefs, you will have challenges. However, now they have a central government based on democratic principles," he adds.

Another task accomplished by the 10,000 men and women under Spurgin's command was international oil security. They provided an elevated means of safety and security to the employees of Shell, Exxon-Mobil, and other oil companies from Russia and China.

"On average, 2.6 million barrels a day are piped out to the Persian Gulf and exported," Spurgin said. "My troops helped ensure the safety of the people that work so hard to get that done."

"Our efforts overseas did not go without sacrifice," Spurgin said. During their time in Iraq his Division had 15 soldiers killed in action and approximately 80 wounded in action.

During a recent interview with Congress, Spurgin said analysts had feared that increased Guard deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan would imperil their ability to respond to natural disasters on the home front, but he and other commanders reported that wartime training and missions have actually enhanced the National Guard's ability to deal with challenges both at home and abroad.

Upon returning home in September 2011, Spurgin's division was demobilized and released at Fort Hood, Texas. Spurgin returned to his civilian duties as NRCS District Conservationist in October 2011.

"I had great support from NRCS; they always allowed me the time needed to serve," Spurgin says.

Since his career began with NRCS, he has worked in Cleburne, Decatur, Lubbock, and currently Big Spring. It is a career choice that has allowed him to work directly with farmers and ranchers across Texas and did not interfere with his service to the Texas Army National Guard.

Other than the work completed while being deployed, National Guard troops lend a helping hand to the U.S. population whenever in need. During the catastrophic wildfire season of 2011, they stepped in to support local, distressed communities and partnered in relief efforts with the Texas Forest Service. They have aided in cleanup and recovery efforts of Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and the Colombia Space Shuttle Recovery mission. Spurgin remains as the Commanding General of the 36th Infantry of the Texas Army National Guard and will provide assistance when called upon.

Family, friends, and local residents have stopped by to welcome Spurgin back. He picked up right where he left off -- aiding agriculture producers in obtaining their conservation goals and preserving our precious natural resources.

Major General Eddy Spurgin helps dedicate the newly established United States State Department Consulate General in Basra, Iraq with State Department officials.
Major General Eddy Spurgin helps dedicate the newly established United States State Department Consulate General in Basra, Iraq with State Department officials.
Major General Eddy Spurgin, United States Division-South Commanding General conducts Key Leader Engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq. Major General Eddy Spurgin, United States Division-South Commanding General conducts Key Leader Engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.
Major General Eddy Spurgin, United States Division-South Commanding General conducts Key Leader Engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.
Major General Eddy Spurgin, United States Division-South Commanding General conducts Key Leader Engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.
Major General Eddy Spurgin, United States Division-South Commanding General conducts Key Leader Engagements with Iraqi military senior leaders in southern Iraq.