By Sgt. Cody HardingJanuary 25, 2010
Basra, Iraq - The streets are crowded in the early morning as 1st Lt. Jeffery Nickerson speaks to a local shop owner on the side of the road, meat hanging from the awning above them. The interpreter beside him translates their conversation, and the two men smile.
The scene is a common one for the Soldiers of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, United States Division-South, who have taken on the mission of countering the enemy in the streets of Basra, not with arms but with words. The Soldiers take to the streets in what is officially known as a counter IDF mission, or 'terrain denial'.
Despite the harsh tone, terrain denial is not about destroying hiding spots or invasion, but about building trust in the community. As the relationship between the Iraqi citizens and USDS troops grows, insurgents are less likely to find footholds in communities where they can attack the base, said Nickerson. The unit also gathers the basic situation of the Iraqi people, which allows them to spot if trouble is around by the amount of activity.
"Building a rapport with the Iraqi people is extremely important," said Nickerson. "If they like us and understand why we're here, it means someone can't come in and just drop a rocket without notice. It means that if they see something, they'll call us."
Many of the missions take place on foot, with dismounted patrols walking along a section of the city before returning to their vehicles and moving on. While out in the town, Soldiers communicate with the people, building a familiarity with the townsfolk.
Staff Sgt. Randy Matz, a squad leader with 1-377th FA, said that the unit has been successful in finding rockets and mortars during their missions as well as other items used against Coalition Forces. He feels a sense of pride leading the Soldiers, he said.
"A lot of pride," Matz said. "I feel like we've got the greatest Soldiers out here right now."
While out on the mission, the troops talk with the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army at checkpoints or on patrol. With the drawdown of U.S. Forces and the return of control to the Iraqis, these meetings play a vital part in ensuring continued success in Iraq.
Pfc. John McDonald, a driver with 1-377th FA, said the unit's mission takes him out into the town frequently, allowing him to meet with the people. He also stated that the Iraqi Army is doing a good job in denying the enemy access to the towns.
Soon, the squad has to move on, heading into another part of the city to talk to more of the people, but the Soldiers of the 1-377th FA have left a good impression on the people of Basra.