By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOApril 7, 2009
BAGHDAD - At the teal dome of the al-Sadren mosque just outside of Joint Security Station Zafaraniyah in the Karrada district of southeast Baghdad, the call to prayer beckons the faithful. At the fence that borders the station, a shepherd herds his flock through the fields. At the disheveled school building nearby, a different kind of instruction still goes on -Bravo Battery "Bulls," prepare for another patrol mentoring their Iraqi Security Force partners.
"We just try to coach them into the lead because these National Police units know what they need to do to be successful," said 1st Sgt. Zayvier Willis, the artillery battery's first sergeant and native of Newark, N.J.
Though the 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Soldiers are primarily mortar and artillery support, they have filled the role of an infantry maneuver unit by patrolling the streets of Zafaraniyah, as well as mentoring their ISF partners.
"We got a good working relationship," added Sgt. 1st Class Eric 'Smoke' Austin, the 3rd platoon sergeant assigned to B Btry. "Most of the time what we're trying to do is turn over the patrols to them. They take the lead in all the patrols for the most part and we help them to better themselves as far as their tactical ways of doing things."
The teacher-student relationships are very personal and on an individual level, added Lawton, Okla. native, 1st Lt. Mark Ralston, the platoon leader assigned to the Bulls.
"What we tend to do is coach, teach and mentor the ISF," continued Ralston. "I pull aside the officer in charge and tell him about the mission we're doing, the intent and what our desired end state is. Then he gives me his composition of how many Soldiers he has. Then we distribute those out to the squad leaders equally, so they get a feel for how we run missions."
The U.S. and Iraqi patrol leaders bounce ideas off each other, deciding what they want to accomplish in the neighborhoods throughout the mission, added Ralston.
"Obviously, they [the ISF] have more experience with the culture and interacting with the local populace," explained Ralston. "But we have more experience with doing these patrols and trying to find out good intelligence to improve the neighborhoods."
According to Ralston, after each mission the leaders have an after action review, identify problems and try to fix them for the next time.
Along with mentoring the ISF, the 3rd platoon Paratroopers also act as advisors for the community. They provide their phone numbers to local leaders within the community so they can call if any issues arise, such as security or services.
"By talking to the spheres of influence, which tend to be older males, they tell us that security is the best it's ever been," said Ralston. "Services are slow, but they are starting to come and improve the neighborhoods."
The joint patrols of Coalition forces and ISF are there because it makes the Iraqis feel safe, added Staff Sgt. Mohammed Jasim, an Iraqi Police platoon leader assigned to Zafaraniyah IP Station.
"The people see us with the U.S. and now they feel more comfortable," said Mohammed.
In addition to giving a sense of security to the neighborhoods, the presence of patrols is paying off for the ISF and CF in other ways.
"With our presence alone they see that we're out here patrolling and we talk to people and ask them how things are," said Austin, a native of Lawton, Okla. "A lot of people let us know if there's bad stuff in their muhallas just because they want it cleaned up. We see the same faces, we get to know them and they get to know us. They tend to open up more and tell us more than they might tell a stranger."
Knowing that the ISF and the CF are living in and protecting the same neighborhoods also opens lines of communication with the local population, added Pfc. Austin Burnham, a medic from Temple, Texas.
"We know how things are going and provide proper security as well as help out with the community's needs - food, water, you know, the basics," explained Burnham.
Although the Paratroopers have a support role, they know they must always be ready to step forward when necessary, added Willis.
"They coach and mentor the IPs, but at a drop of a dime, they can go straight tactical and go do a cordon and search," emphasized Willis.
The Paratroopers can do all this flawlessly because of the camaraderie and trust in each other, he added.
"We have each other's life in our hands," explained Ralston, describing the relationship with both his American and Iraqi comrades. "That is one team, one heartbeat. If one person goes down, that is a mistake for everybody."
Back inside the schoolhouse, the day's lesson is over. Some of the 21 Soldiers from 3rd Platoon gather around for their ritual called "Sausage Fest," before going to bed at 3 a.m. after a night patrol. They clean weapons, joke around and discuss the night's mission while cutting hulking slices of Hickory Farms sausage and cheese sent by loved ones back home. They feast on their after-mission snacks before climbing into their racks; ready to teach tomorrow's class.