BAGHDAD - As U.S. troops continue to leave the cities for the rural areas, in accordance with the articles of the Security Agreement, an important first step is just getting to know their new neighbors.

Soldiers with 120th Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, at Forward Operating Base Mahmudiyah took time to visit their Iraqi neighbors, June 22.

Capt. Sara Woods, with Civil Affairs Team 3,1 conducted a census in the small village just on the north side of the FOB, to learn more about the Iraqis who lived there.

With the help of an interpreter, Woods, of Janesville, Minn., and other Soldiers walked to every nearby home and spent a few moments talking with the families. Soldiers also chatted with residents and shop owners.

"We have never talked with the people here and we wanted to introduce ourselves," said Woods.

The 120th Soldiers asked everyone they met how they felt about living right next to the base.

"Most of the people we talked to said they felt very safe being so close," Woods said, "We all laughed about the big guns going off at night. They said it startles them, and we told them it startles us, too!"

The base has a three-gun firing platoon of 155mm Paladin self-propelled howitzers that occasionally fire for practice or to support troops.

Residents also expressed concerns about the eventual departure of Coalition troops.

"Many of them are worried that as soon as we leave, the insurgents will come back," said Woods.

The U.S. visit also brought a community concern to Woods' attention, one which will benefit the villagers.

According residents, when the base was built - before this unit's arrival in Iraq - the main waterline into town was somehow cut and residents haven't had fresh water since.

"If we hadn't gone out there and talked to the people living outside the FOB, we would have never known they were not getting water through the line," said Woods. "Now we can figure out a way to help them get clean water."