'Garryowen' troopers continue building relationships Iraqis near Taji
October 10, 2007
TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers from Troop C, 1st Squadron, 7th "Garryowen" Cavalry Regiment, who work out of a nearby Coalition outpost, are continuing to reach out in operations to build relationships and trust with the people in the areas they patrol here.
In one such effort, Soldiers from Comanche Troop conducted a census to gather an accurate assessment of population size and statistics while at the same time interacting with the local populace Oct. 6 in the Baghdad Gardens area near Taji.
"We just took over the area about a month ago (from Troop A) and there a few houses we've never visited before because the home owners were not there. So we're going to get information from those particular homes which we did not get the last time we were there," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Fernandez, a platoon sergeant in Troop C, who explained that doing a census serves as an opportunity for the people in the area to become familiarized with Soldiers in his platoon. "Gathering a census also lets us know exactly who's living in the area and who the local tribal leaders are so we can connect with them on reconciliation issues and other matters."
The information garnered from the census will be passed on to the Iraqi government, providing government officials with insights into the demographics of the area, according to Fernandez.
As the Soldiers went door to door in the neighborhoods of Baghdad Gardens, they were met with smiles, handshakes and offers of traditional Iraqi chai (tea).
Children followed the troops on nearly every street on which they walked.
At one house the sounds of "hello, hello" as well as traditional Arabic greetings from male members of the household emanated on the streets as the Comanches were welcomed into the courtyard of the residence.
In an adjacent house, a local artisan showed the troops his clay wares.
"These look like something you might find in an up-scale store in the states," said Staff Sgt. Halisaam Thompson, a squad leader with Comanche troop who hails from Philadelphia.
The man smiled proudly as an interpreter translated Thompson's words into Arabic.
Upon entering the courtyard in another home in this farming community, a flock of sheep filed past the troopers. Date fruits, which are harvested in the area during Ramadan, were picked, placed in large plastic bags and stacked on the grass.
"You are welcome in my home, and thank you," said the home owner who greeted the troopers.
The man, who had been picking dates, could not shake with his hand due to it being sore from picking the fruits which are eaten during the break from the Ramadan fast. He offered an apology through an interpreter for his inability to give the traditional greeting, but he did give the Soldiers the "thumbs up" sign.
As the troops explained their census gathering mission to the villagers at each house at which they stopped, the male head of each household answered the questions.
Fernandez attests the willingness of the local residents to help with the census and other Coalition efforts in the area has a lot to do with improved security throughout the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment's area of operations.
"They can see a big change and understand what we're doing," said Fernandez. "But it's not just about us helping them, it's all about Iraqis helping Iraqis, especially with recent reconciliation efforts in our area."
"Before there were (Iraqi security volunteers) initially things were a little rough because the locals wanted to help but wouldn't give us any information because they were afraid that they would be killed by insurgents," said Fernandez. "Now they're happy we're here and are way too willing to give up the bad guys because there are Iraqi security volunteers working near their neighborhoods."
Fernandez's Soldiers said they too have definitely noticed a change since the Iraqi security volunteers began working with Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces to weed out extremists.
"If the whole country were to do what our volunteers have done, pushing out Al Qaeda and members of the Jaish Al Mahdi army, then our forces will be out of here sooner than any analyst could ever hope to predict," said Pvt. Brandon Reed, a Comanche Troop scout. "Our security environment has definitely been improving and at every checkpoint there are volunteers manning them-men who are protecting their own houses and families and that's as much as they could ever put on the line."
"They're always out there supporting us," added Reed who hails from Unadilla, N.Y.
People who live in the local villages are also signing up to become Iraqi Police. Comanche Troop's role in those efforts have involved helping with the administering of physical fitness tests for the recruits as Soldiers from Troop A did the recruits' administrative processing.
"These police are local area people who will be protecting their own towns and their own neighborhoods - they'll protect their own people and keep outsiders and extremists out of their hometowns which will be good for those communities," said Fernandez. "Our guys are excited to see the Iraqis actually standing up and providing security, eventually becoming part of the Iraqi government."
With nearly four months left in country, Reed said the chance to participate in operations such as the day's census have been a worthwhile experience and he always invites opportunities to work with the Iraqi people.
"It's been great for me as I'm getting to learn about a different culture and building an awareness and respect for that culture, seeing how other people live," said Reed. "It's definitely been an eye-opening experience."