KEM, Iraq - Soldiers from two 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team units participated in a joint cordon and search mission lead by Iraqi Army soldiers March 3 in Kem village, north of Camp Taji.

Soldiers from the 856th Engineer Company and the 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, used the mission as an opportunity to meet locals and get a feel for service and infrastructure needs. No weapons caches were found.

"It's about establishing relationships," said 1st Lt. Patrick Smith, of Reading, Pa., commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry, 56th SBCT, 28th Infantry Division.

"The significance of it was the planning and execution of the mission by the Iraqi Army. That was the success," Smith said. "It was their idea and we coordinated concurrent planning."

Smith said roughly 70 percent of the population of Kem is internally displaced persons. He said the transient population creates "a seam" that insurgents try to exploit by operating in an area where they can go unnoticed.

Soldiers went house to house looking for explosives and meeting Kem residents to talk about their concerns.

Spc. Anthony Pompliano, a combat engineer from the 856th Eng. Co. who hails from Carry, N.C., operated a metal detector during the mission and also utilized an explosives-sniffing military dog and other detection apparatuses.

"I think it definitely sent a message. If something happens we'll be there asking questions," Pompliano said of the search.

"The engineering purpose and task was to assist the Iraqi Army and the 1-111th in a cordon and search," said Staff Sgt. Mickey Stormer, also a combat engineer with the 856th Engineers, who hails from Brookville, Pa.

"It went slower than I thought it was going to. It was a big area to cover with one company but we adapted to it," he said.

Stormer, who as a civilian works as a police officer for the Borough of Brookville, said his soldiers are doing a good job and that the deployment so far has been what he's expected. Stormer said he has worked with Iraqi Army personnel previously.

"I'm very impressed with them. I get along with them. They have a good attitude and a good sense of humor," he said.

Pompliano, a combat engineer who attends Bucknell University, Union County, Pa., agreed with Stormer about the Iraqi Army soldiers who led the day's mission.

"They're very enthusiastic. They have the right mindset," he said.

The 56th SBCT will be deployed to Iraq through the late summer. The brigade is headquartered out of Philadelphia.