TAMPA — The Iraq war didn't take this long.
Completion of a memorial to honor U.S. Central Command troops who died serving their country has been delayed more than a decade by vexing red tape, security concerns and plain bad luck, organizers say.
The memorial, conceived before the 2001 terrorist attacks, stands partially completed outside CentCom's headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.
Statues of soldiers are stored in Colorado. The original architect is dead. Some original construction workers are retired. The groundbreaking was in 2003.
"It's a killer because none of us is getting any younger," said Alan Jacobson, secretary of the U.S. Central Command Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group building the project with private donations.
Foundation leaders say they are now in discussions with MacDill officials on expediting the final stages of work, trying to avoid long delays in getting necessary military approvals.
Organizers are hopeful.
They don't want to assess blame. They say it is not CentCom's fault that the project has been delayed. The nation, after all, is at war, they say.
"It's frustrating," said Ellie Scarfone-Malanowski, an Ocala woman who is president of the foundation. "But delays are understandable."
Officials at CentCom, which is not involved in construction or planning of the memorial, declined to comment on delays.
"We appreciate the foundation's efforts recognizing the sacrifices of our troops," said Maj. T.G. Taylor, a CentCom spokesman.
Scarfone-Malanowski said the memorial is intended to honor the up to 6,500 CentCom troops who have died in combat or accidents since CentCom's 1983 creation.
CentCom's area of responsibility includes 20 countries in the Middle East, and it has led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The memorial is a circular plaza about 120 feet in diameter with walls of varying height. Flagpoles rise on one side of the plaza with benches throughout.
The memorial is already being used for occasional ceremonies.
But the names of the dead are not yet installed on walls, more benches are planned and a life-size statue of two soldiers, finished two years ago, awaits transport from Colorado.
The foundation needs to raise $300,000 to finish its work, bringing the total cost to $1.5 million, Jacobson said.
The project was Scarfone-Malanowski's idea, following the lead of the late Richard Leandri, a local businessman who had planned other memorials.
At a Jan. 3, 2003, groundbreaking, foundation officials said it might take a year to finish.
Then base officials told them they needed a long list of approvals, including the Pentagon, Congress and the Air Force, Scarfone-Malanowski said.
Paperwork, she said, was sent to the Pentagon. Somebody there lost it. It was sent again.
"Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years," Jacobson said.
Final approvals took more than two years.
By then, two wars occupied CentCom. MacDill security was tighter than ever. Foundation officials said detailed background checks on construction crews and even foundation members were needed.
Access to the property, they said, was often impossible.
When completed, the memorial, like MacDill, will not be freely accessible to the public.
"We intended it for the troops, and they will see it," Scarfone-Malanowski said.
Even taking pictures of work was an ordeal. "Bring a camera and you were lucky a sniper didn't take you out," Jacobson joked.
And the foundation went through generals like some people go through socks. It's the nature of the military, where personnel always rotate between assignments every few years.
That caused more delay, too.
"It seemed like every time we'd say hello to a new commander, they're gone in three days," Jacobson said.
The best-case scenario is that the memorial will be complete in about a year, said Jacobson. The foundation has now enlisted the help of the influential Military Officers Association of America, and he is optimistic.
Organizers recently met with CentCom's chief of staff, who they said was eager to help.
"We're not giving up," Scarfone-Malanowski said. "We're doing this for the troops."
Reach William R. Levesque at [email protected]