"Panthers," ISF patrol concrete jungle
March 6, 2009
BAGHDAD - After long hours walking on patrol, the paratroopers kick up their dusty, worn boots. They grab a bite to eat or hit the weights, challenge their platoon leaders to video games, or just sit around and make fun of each other in the dilapidated hotel known as Combat Outpost 102.
Located in the Rusafa district, paratroopers assigned to Troop B, 5th Squadron, 73rd Calvary Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, call this home
At home, the paratroopers relax a bit, but never let down their guard because they live in the heart of where they work. Living out in the neighborhood where they work is necessary for these Soldiers to accomplish their mission.
"It's much more effective to live among the community," said Troop B 1st Sgt. Michael Kelly, a native of Wilmington, N.C., and a cavalry scout. "We disrupt the enemy's ability to attack by being out here all the time and gathering intelligence."
Being in the middle of a crowded, urban environment can have its benefits for these hardened Soldiers.
"The fact that we are so close to the population, it makes us a harder target," added Kelley with a grin. "Certainly no one is going to drop indirect fire on us."
Living and working among the community helps the paratroopers get a real sense of the combat environment and neighborhood.
"It's absolutely necessary to live out here because we can keep our ear to the ground and get impressions of the general public," stated Spc. Matthew Luce, a stocky fire support specialist with Troop B and a native of Windham, Maine. "It's essential to be on the ground as much as possible."
Luce continued, "We've trained to do our job and we're in our element when we're on the ground. Whether we're on a mission clearing houses or whatnot, everybody cheers up when we're going out."
The mission for Troop B is to work closely with their Iraqi Security Force partners to build security and governance for the local area according to Kelley. They do this through constant foot patrols with the Iraqi Police and Army, and talking to people in the neighborhood while handing out tip line cards. The cards are written in Arabic and have phone numbers people can call if they see any suspicious activities. The ultimate goal is to safely handover a secure area to the local Iraqi Security Force as quickly as possible.
The paratroopers are trying to rid the area of insurgents, "So when we leave they won't still be here," said Spc. Robert Forster, or "Doc," one of the medics for Troop B and a native of Sebastian, Fla.
"The ISF are pretty good," added Doc. "During patrols, we've had a couple of fights they've broken up with groups of drunk guys fighting."
Though the paratroopers have a few Iraqi interpreters working and living with them, the language barrier is still sometimes difficult when training and working with their ISF counterparts. The way the paratroopers conduct their business as consummate professionals is easy for the ISF to mimic.
"We have high standards across the board, whether in our kits on patrol or even in garrison, we are expected to operate at a high level of discipline," said Luce.
"The ISF follow our example when we patrol. They've been out with Americans for quite a while and they'll start to mirror what we do," said Kelley
It's apparent that this technique rubs off on the ISF. During short halts on patrol, the paratroopers provide 360-degree security and the ISF dutifully follow their lead.
"They are going to take what they want from us and do it their own way," added Kelley. "They can't be a mirror image of ourselves."
Ali Falaha, an Iraqi Police officer dressed in a blue IP shirt and sharp black slacks, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, who joins in on the paratroopers' patrols follows the lead of his Coalition force teammates.
"Of course the Americans experience is much better than ours, but it will be a very warm relationship in the future," said Falaha. "When they stay here in the cities, it is better because then they teach us."
It's important that working with the ISF means not just trying to tell them how things should be done, but showing them how to do them, added Kelley.
"The Iraqi people feel more secure when we do our patrols and take time to mingle," said Doc as sweat drips off his brow. "Occasionally people come and say they have info for us; it shows they're getting tired of it and they want the war to end."
With the security agreement for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq looming around the corner, training and patrolling with ISF daily is paramount for the success and safety of the Rusafa district and districts throughout Baghdad. For Troop B, they do this by protecting what they call home for now.