Q-West quick reaction force stays sharp on patrol
December 23, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq - Members of a Mississippi Army National Guard unit conducted a routine presence patrol around Contingency Operating Location Q-West Dec. 15, demonstrating their strategies for combating complacency.
Soldiers with 1st Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 198th Combined Arms, 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, a mechanized infantry unit out of Hernando, Miss., serving as COL Q-West's force protection company, conducted the mounted patrol as part of their daily battle rhythm.
"The biggest risk we face is complacency," said Staff Sgt. Stephen S. Poff, the first squad leader and native of Ashland, Miss. "This mission is the same thing, over and over. We look for ways to keep it fresh. We conduct battle drills for events like indirect fire or vehicle recovery. We vary our route."
Poff said that each platoon in the company spends two weeks as the quick reaction force, which conducts the presence patrol, then spends two weeks performing battle space missions, such as supporting operation and maintenance missions to the pump house or securing convoys as needed.
"The platoon rotates QRF duty every 48 hours between the squads," said Poff. "A squad makes up to three two-hour patrols every 24 hours. Then another squad rotates in, and the one rotating out conducts vehicle maintenance and, when possible, gets a day off."
Sgt. Patrick A. Martin, a truck commander, said uneventful patrols and a repetitious battle rhythm contribute to the risk of complacency.
"Not much happens on this mission, so we vary our routes to stay fresh," said Martin, a resident of Southaven, Miss. "Once, we found an unexploded mortar round, but otherwise the weather is our biggest challenge, rain and fog. Mostly, we encounter dogs, dust and fog. Lately, the winter rain makes the desert muddy, and it can get very foggy at night."
Spc. Timothy D. Millican, a gunner from Southaven, Miss., agreed that the mission has been peaceful.
"QRF is probably the least exciting thing we do," said Millican. "When we're not on a perimeter patrol, we pretty much sit and wait for something to happen, and this has been a quiet area of Iraq."
Sgt. Jeremy L. Sapp, a truck commander from Blue Springs, Miss., uses patrols to share experiences he gained during the unit's previous deployment in 2005.
"During patrols, I try to use some of the stuff I learned in the last deployment to teach the younger guys who haven't deployed before," said Sapp. "I tell them about things that could happen in different situations. Those things haven't happened, but they could and these younger guys need to keep that in mind."
Spc. Chance W. Jeffress, II, Sapp's gunner, said these stories were educational and kept him alert.
"I like listening to sergeant Sapp's stories," said Jeffress, a native of Horn Lake, Miss. "When we're on a patrol, he will point out situations that we're going through and talk about how they dealt with them during the last deployment. Those stories are interesting and give me a better perspective on our mission."
The vehicles' internal communications - the intercom system to which all crew members are connected with head phones - helps Soldiers stay focused, said Spc. William B. Waldrop, a gun truck driver.
"Talking to each other is a big part of patrolling," said Waldrop, a native of Senatobia, Miss. "We constantly talk about everything we're seeing, and that keeps my mind on the mission. The other thing that keeps me focused is when my vehicle commander yells at me to stay focused."
Millican said the presence patrols help maintain cordial relations with the local Iraqis.
"I like the presence patrols because they give us a chance to experience the local community," said Millican. "We get to know the people who live in the local villages."
When interacting with the local population, the QRF members take care to follow the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, said Sapp.
"We adhere to the Status of Forces Agreement and don't go through populated areas, but we pass near some small villages," said Sapp. "The people know us, and they often come out to greet us, especially the children. We share water and sometimes give the kids candy."
Sgt. Jeffrey J. Jackson, platoon medic, said it was important for the local community to see the presence patrol.
"These patrols help us maintain good relations with the local community, that's true," said Jackson, a native of Hernando, Miss. "The patrols let the locals know we are here and we're engaged. If a base stopped guarding outside the wire, hostile forces might show up. The locals would be vulnerable, and the base might start receiving mortars and rockets."
The perimeter patrol conducts a reconnaissance of abandoned villages in the vicinity of Q-West, said Sapp.
"When we first got here, we cleared a number of abandoned villages, and we still check them out occasionally," said Sapp. "To stay fresh, to keep the mission from being too repetitive, we also practice our battle drills."
The relative peacefulness of current sustainment operations required a significant adjustment from veterans of previous deployments who grew used to full spectrum operations, said Poff.
"I enjoy this deployment more than the last one; it's a lot quieter," said Poff. "But some of the older guys feel different."
Jackson said that he had trouble getting used to the difference in missions.
"Comparing this deployment to the last one, there is no comparison," said Jackson. "In 2005, it was kicking in doors and a lot of shooting, but now we are doing a totally different mission. That's tough for some of us who deployed last time to get used to."
Jackson said he found it difficult to reconcile conducting operations in a combat zone but living on a post that operates like a peace-time garrison.
"We leave the wire and might face combat, especially during battle space missions when we could receive mortar or rocket fire or get hit by an improvised explosive device," said Jackson. "When we get back, we are living in garrison conditions. The question that goes through my mind sometimes is, 'Is this combat in Iraq or garrison duty back in the States''"
Capt. Drew Clark, commander of A Company, said he understands the dilemma.
"They're infantry Soldiers," said Clark, a resident of Madison, Miss. "It's what they do. As far as interacting with the local citizens, the senior noncommissioned officers who've been here before know how to conduct themselves with Iraqis."
Clark said he is confident in the adaptability of his Soldiers.
"When we first got here, I went on several presence patrols, but my Soldiers have a good handle on that mission," said Clark. "They are doing an outstanding job. We haven't had a single breach of physical security since we arrived. They've helped keep the base secure."