BAGHDAD (March 7, 2010) - As Iraqi forces celebrate what their leaders are calling a resounding victory for a safe and free Iraq, U.S. Division-Center leaders are praising their Soldiers for their strategic role in assisting them.
Despite an early morning attempt by terrorists to disrupt the elections, the Iraqi people resolved themselves to get out and vote at the March 7 general elections.
American leaders watched as well trained and determined Iraqi Security Forces stopped terrorists at every turn from scaring voters away from polling sites - a force that they had been involved in training and assisting; a force they were still involved with assisting.
Though most Soldiers from 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, in western Baghdad, remained inside the wire, a small few stepped outside the wire to escort United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq personnel and Western media to polling sites.
"The security was tight," said Guy DiDomenico, a U.N. field security specialist, while touring a polling site in Mansour. He explained that around 8:30 a.m., polling was slow. However, many more voters arrived between 10 a.m. and noon.
Compared to the 2009 elections, where he was also present, DiDomenico said security improved greatly this year and that the polling locations appeared much more organized, with more people working at them.
Watching from more than 300 meters away as their ISF counterparts handled the security at the polling sites, U.S. Soldiers said they were impressed by the process.
"The ISF did a good job," said Cpl. Andrew Canvasser, a military policeman with MP Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div.
"The ISF used a show of force to keep order," he said, explaining that both Iraqi Army and the police were present at the polling sites. "[They] did a good job minimizing [the] threat as much as they could."
Meanwhile, back on Forward Operation Base Constitution, location of the 6th Iraqi Army Division Joint Operations Center, 4th Brigade Soldiers and leaders carefully monitored the security situation alongside Iraqi partners.
Together, the two military forces shared intelligence about the situation on the ground, coordinated the use of U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance equipment, and received updates from the field.
"The JOC was instrumental in ensuring that Iraqi and U.S. forces were synchronized, updated on each others' activities, and allowed us to quickly and effectively maneuver ISR assets at the request of our partners," said Col. John Norris, the brigade commander. "The JOC has proven to be a valuable tool and an asset that will continue to be used by our ISF partners long after we have gone."
Even though the threat of violence against voters by insurgents was high and the sound of explosions could be heard in the distance throughout the morning, the ISF remained committed to providing a safe and secure environment for voters.
"As anticipated, [al Qaeda in Iraq] attempted to disrupt the elections, but the determination of the Iraqi people and the ISF has prevailed, and Iraq is moving forward," said Norris.
"I give a lot of credit to the Iraqi people for going out and voting even though there's real danger out there," he said. "It's a sight to see people voting."
As they watched the ISF operate at ground level, Capt. Justin Kennedy, from Belton, Texas, battle captain and an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter pilot with 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Bde., 1st Cavalry Div., watched from the air.
"When we were out there, there wasn't a single time today, when we looked at an Iraqi check point, that the Iraqi Security Forces weren't doing their job," Kennedy said. "It was an ultimate full-circle experience. Getting to be here during the surge - during the most violent period in Iraq - and then to fly out here today and look down from my aircraft and see everybody voting with no violence going on ... it was like a 180-degree [turn-around]."
As he continued to observe the situation, voting continued in central Baghdad as Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Div., provided support to the Iraqi Security Forces in eastern Baghdad.
The U.S. support included intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, early warning capabilities, combined command and control nodes, and quick reaction forces that remained positioned to respond if requested by the ISF.
"The purpose of our security operations was to ensure that the voters have freedom of maneuver to go to the polls," said Maj. Dennis Ifurung, executive officer with 1st Bn., 89th Cav. Regt. "We ensured that there were no illegal checkpoints, no possible [car bombs] or gatherings that would hinder voter turnout or enable intimidation and persuasion."
To the west of their position, Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Support Battalion waited for a call from the ISF, prepared to deliver consequence management packages and assist the ISF with palletized barriers.
Their leaders said the fact that they were not called was a testament to how successful the ISF was in securing the city.
"Today, we've been prepared in case we need to respond to any assistance the Iraqi Army needs us to provide; whether it be security or consequence management packages to help secure an election site," said 1st Lt. Michael McCrory, Company A, and a native of Cumming, Ga. "If the Iraqi Army needs us, we're going to be there but if we don't get called up, it means that we've done our job training the Iraqi army these last few years to be ready."
Other Soldiers on standby said they were eager to assist the Iraqis in more over watch missions in the future but said they were glad to remain in the wings today if they were not needed.
"I think it's excellent that we are not in the front, and that we are assisting, because it shows that we have done our job in training the ISF," said Spc. Brandon Cleary, Co. A, BSB, and a native of Tuscaloosa, Al. "We've been over here for a decent amount of time and I think it's finally showing. A mission like this is historical. For the first time, the Iraqi people are able to vote on their own free will."
As they waited to be called in for support, Soldiers from 4th Bn., 31st Infantry Regt., provided 45th Bde., 11th Iraqi Army, multiple ISR video feeds for the election at a joint command and control center. The unit also provided six quick reaction teams strategically placed throughout the area by the Iraqi Army.
As the polls closed in the northern area of Baghdad, officials attributed the ISF for higher than anticipated voter turnout as the local population continued to fill polling stations.
"Overall, supporting the national elections has solidified for us the IA's ability to conduct security operations and track units on the ground," said 1st Lt. Drew Kitchen, an Iraqi Army operations coordinator.
If Iraqis filled the polling stations in northern Baghdad, they swelled them in Iraq's al Anbar province, where advise-and-assist paratroopers with 1st Bde., 82nd Airborne Div., escorted three election-site monitoring teams with United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq to polling sites in Ramadi, the Ramadi-Fallujah corridor and the Hit/Haditha area.
According to the Anbar Operations Command, the ISF had discovered 20 improvised explosive devices and removed them in a 30-hour span prior to Election Day. Eight more detonated on Election Day with only one minor injury.
U.S. forces standing by for assistance were never called upon by Iraqi Security Forces. However, Capt. Richard Jones, commander of Co. B, 2nd Bn., 504th Parachute Inf. Regt., said his company provided security and transportation for the Ramadi and Fallujah area UNAMI teams.
His men did exactly what was needed. "They deserve praise," he said. "They worked hard today. They have been working hard this whole deployment, and we're proud of them."