By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOMarch 23, 2009
BAGHDAD - On the first day of spring, Baghdad University College of Agriculture in Abu Ghraib needed some cleaning. Instead of brooms and dustpans, Iraqi police and U.S. Soldiers used detection dogs, shovels and mine detectors to sweep for unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive devices and weapons caches March 21.
In preparation for University Day April 5, troops from 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division received reports that the area needed to be cleared before it could open its doors to the public for Baghdad University's annual event.
"It's almost like a college day open house back home," said Mifflintown, Pa. native Staff Sgt. Robert Welfley, the private security detail noncommissioned officer in charge, assigned to the "Strykers". "They think there's UXO out in the fields and we need to clear it before University Day."
The branch of Baghdad University has several large plots of land with rows of verdant crops and greenhouses surrounding the college buildings.
"It's an agricultural college so the Iraqi students might be planting something and come across a mine," said Spc. Jeff Ross, a mortar man from Townsville, Pa., also a Stryker Soldier. "We're trying to keep that area clear for them."
Iraqi Policemen were interspersed within the line of Stryker Soldiers as they slowly and meticulously waded through thigh-high grasses, stopping occasionally to dig out suspected items.
"They bring security and get rid of many bad things," said Muhammad Salim, a security manager that works at the college. "The Americans and IPs have good cooperation and we feel more secure when they come."
This is one of several clearing missions in the area for which Iraqi Security Forces and the Stryker Soldiers have joined forces.
"Whenever communities see Coalition forces joined with ISF, it gives them a good sense that things are getting done," said 1st Lt. Sam Coover, a Stryker mortar platoon leader from New Oxford, Pa. "So in doing a mission like this, making that area safe, they're confident they can focus on their studies and not all the war that's going on around them and all the conflict."
Coover, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, is a high school chemistry teacher who understands the importance of creating a safe learning environment.
"At home, I worry about things like bullying, kids picking on other kids... that they're not picked on or tormented or anything like that," he said. "So making it a safe learning environment is crucial. When students are distracted by the non-academic things it makes it very hard to learn and pick up on things."
The IPs and Stryker Soldiers were complimented by military police and working dogs from the Provost Marshall's Office, Camp Liberty K-9 section, 1st Cavalry Division.
"We're there to support them, clear the area and search for explosives," said Sgt. Christopher Jasper, a kennel master from Everett, Wash. "The sky's the limit, you never know what a dog can find and they're an extra resource on top of the metal detectors."
Sporadically throughout the day, when the metal detectors gave a high-pitched buzz, the Stryker Soldiers and IPs stopped and dug deep enough holes in the grassy fields to uncover whatever metal lay beneath. The Soldiers and IPs would switch off on working the metal detectors and painstakingly unearthing buried metal under the hot sun.
"When the communities see these joint missions together, they know that we're helping to train the Iraqis and pass on a lot of our skills," added Coover. "We're also sending the message that this is a safe place you can send your students."
The IPs and Stryker Soldiers did not find anything worth throwing out in their rendition of spring cleaning, so now the students can focus on a blossoming new Iraq rather than possible dangers lurking beneath the soil.