JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - The midday August sun bore down on the Soldiers as they dismounted from their armored vehicles. The warm breeze gave no relief from the 114-degree heat.

"Remember, drink plenty of water," said the patrol leader. "We'll be walking seven kilometers today."

With final checks complete, Soldiers from the 266th Military Police Company moved out for another counter-indirect fire patrol.

The 266th MP Co. was recently attached to the 37th Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. This unit is the newest member of the 555th Engineer Brigade, out of Ft. Lewis, Wa., known as the triple nickel.

In the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Joint Base Balad earned the name "Mortaritaville," as it received indirect fire attacks consistently since U.S. forces first took control of the former Iraqi air base in 2003.

Shortly after becoming part of the triple nickel, the 266th MPs took on a force-protection mission. Through the continuous efforts of units such as the 266th, attacks against JBB have been reduced.

"Mortar and rocket attacks present a constant danger to personnel stationed here," said 1st Lt. John Hinton, a platoon leader with the 266th, and a Newport News, Va., native. "Our patrols are designed to deny insurgents the ability to conduct attacks against the base. These patrols are also an opportunity for us to interact with the area residents."

The daily missions combine mounted and dismounted patrols, to give Soldiers the ability to investigate suspected launch sites and look for possible caches of mortars and rockets. These patrols encompass the small villages and farm lands that surround the base.

"We walk for several hours and look for signs of a recent launch," said Sgt. James Reed, a Stanton, Va. Native, and a first-platoon team leader. "Burn marks on the ground or trails leading into the brush are the type of things we check out."

Patrol locations and times are determined by intelligence analysis and local observations. Spc. Jesse Miller, from Montclair, Va., said he understands the necessity of these patrols.

"We get our information and act on it to deny the enemies indirect fire capability," said Miller.

The force protection mission is the final assignment in Iraq for this National Guard unit. Previous assignments included providing police training teams and convoy security operations.

Although nearing the end of their deployment, the Soldiers of the 266th MP Co. embraced this last mission with commitment and dedication.

"We've been here for nearly a year and this is a good mission to end our tour with," said Miller.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16