Watching the horizon
BAGHDAD - Pfc. Shane Packard, an infantryman assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, watches the horizon for possible insurgent attacks March 7 while the Abu Ghraib populace votes. The Iraqi Security Forces requested the presence of 1-38th in case they might have needed assistance. They didn't. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel Schneider, 366th MPAD, USD-C)

BAGHDAD - Before the sun rose at Victory Base Complex March 7, Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment found themselves poised to help Iraqi Security Forces protect voters at the national elections.

Iraqi forces had given the U.S. Soldiers, from 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, permission to set up inside the 3rd Iraqi Army Bn., 6th IA Div., post in Abu Ghraib so they could react quickly to support the ISF, if needed.

"We're here only if the Iraqi Army calls on us," said 1st Lt. Andy Byers, platoon leader of 4th platoon. "The only way we're allowed to move is if it is specifically requested by ISF command."

This approach allowed the ISF to demonstrate to insurgents the ISF doesn't need to rely on U.S. intervention to secure the elections and show voters they could handle anything that occurred, said Byers, a native of Buffalo, N.Y.

"The ISF seem much more confident in working independently," said Byers. "This election was a perfect chance for them to prove to their people that they are a professional force, and to earn the Iraqi people's respect."

Soldiers said the ISF being ready to stand on its own is also a testament to the U.S. military's success in preparing Iraq to protect itself.

"American forces have trained the ISF well," said Sgt. Cody Jurrens, a Co. C team leader from Garberville, Calif. "The ISF seems ready, so when we leave, Iraq will be in capable hands."

After multiple deployments, some 1-38th Soldiers have noticed significant changes with Iraq's ability to defend itself.

Sergeant Keith York, a team leader assigned to Co. C, served in Iraq 2007-08, and noticed the difference in how the ISF operated between then and now.

"Back then, there was corruption among the Iraqi Army and police, and they didn't understand the use of chain of command," York explained. "Over the last three years, it's been great to see how much better it has become."

Jurrens also has had prior experience in Iraq.

"In my two deployments to Iraq, I can definitely tell we've made a difference, said Jurrens. "Even the local populace has mentioned they're happy that we're around."

York also noticed a big change in the mindset of voters, particularly in Abu Ghraib.

"Last election, hardly anyone in Abu Ghraib voted," he said, "but [in] this election, there has been a great deal of anticipation leading up to the election among the people of Abu Ghraib, with many of them expecting to cast their votes."

Leaders from Iraq and around the world have applauded Iraqis for taking a big step toward becoming a free, peaceful nation and their security forces for giving them the opportunity to. That step holds a special meaning for York.

"It is great to see them taking the next step," he said. "It means that when me and my guys go home, we have helped this nation on its way to its potential. I am honored to have been a part of this."

Page last updated Mon March 8th, 2010 at 11:12