By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOApril 14, 2009
BAGHDAD - As cloud-covered skies unleashed a torrent of rain, thousands of people demonstrated in and around Baghdad's Sadr City on the sixth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein April 9. Similar rallies against Coalition forces in Iraq ended in violence and bloodshed in previous years. This year, the "Black Knights" of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division were determined to not let history repeat itself.
"We received a lot of [information] that [insurgents] might step up and start something and just try and ruin the day basically," said Cpl. Cameron McNeel, an infantry team leader from Houston assigned to the Black Knights. "We're out here with a big, strong presence and we're also doing a lot of traffic control points to hinder the movement of [the insurgents]."
During the days leading up to the anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Black Knights have been in northeast Baghdad performing security operations to disrupt insurgent activities.
"It makes it so complicated of a task for bad guys to move around with weapons or explosives in their cars that it forces them to push out on an area of operations," explained McNeel while manning a checkpoint in the Waziriya neighborhood. "That keeps the violence down in a sector."
In each sector, Iraqi Security Forces work at traffic control points with Coalition forces in order to make it a peaceful day.
"We're out here today especially in case some people, still loyal to Saddam, try to mess up everything and make the ISF look bad or even the CF by hurting Iraqis," said Warrant Officer Jalel Bakar, an Iraqi Policeman assigned to the Adamiyah IP Station who was working a checkpoint with the Black Knights. "We work together to make the area safe and leave the people in the community with a good impression."
By stopping vehicles randomly and thoroughly searching them at hastily set up checkpoints, it provides the most security for the community as well as the best chances to catch insurgents transporting weapons caches, improvised explosive devices or anything else illegal, added McNeel.
"The increased presence to prevent any uprisings today, because of the fall of Saddam Hussein years ago, has gone extremely well," said Staff Sgt. Mike Grose, a native of Summersville, W. Va., and an infantry squad leader assigned to the Black Knights. "The Iraqis have also done a good job; there are checkpoints all around town and things are flowing well."
Most Iraqis are familiar with the search process and know what to do when waved into the checkpoint, but it doesn't hurt to speak a little Arabic and give a friendly wave, added McNeel.
"These people are good people," continued Grose with a beaming smile. "We know a lot of them around town and they know us."
Working the same streets every day helps the ISF and CF keep violence down on an historic day like today and also improves the community.
"When we help make the security better in the area then everything gets better," added Grose. "It's actually nice and improving day-to-day: they're putting sidewalks in new places, we have parks and everything, so things are continually improving," he said.
"We're striving to make the country a better place for the women and children as much as we are trying to keep ourselves safe by trying to keep the weapons out of the hands of the bad guys," said McNeel.
"If we've managed to keep the violence down, or at bay in this sector and in other sectors on today, a day that historically they end up getting pretty violent on, then it's one more stepping stone on the way to getting the country of Iraq back on its feet," explained McNeel.
To help on that path, the Black Knight Soldiers and the ISF were out on their feet all day to protect the Iraqi people not only making contact, but positive contact, according to Grose.
"Hopefully we can make the community safe so when we leave here, we can come back someday without all our gear on," he added.
As the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds, the demonstrators were long gone, but the ISF and Black Knights were still checking vehicles, talking to locals and protecting the community one vehicle at a time.