By Spc. Richard Rzepka (101st Airborne)February 27, 2008
BALAD, Iraq - As the ramp slammed down in the muck, the rain came howling in drenching the men who leaped off the back of the Chinook helicopter. The troopers hurried into the field of sloppy mud where they slipped and slid through the landing zone to reorganize in the pitch black Iraqi night. Not even the moon was friendly on this mission, which would prove to be a testament to the guts of Army Infantrymen and to the determination of Charlie Company Soldiers to make even the most remote hamlets in the Salah ad-Din province safe from al Qaida's treachery.
Soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division conducted Operation Helsinki Feb. 15 to clear out al Qaida fighters from an area here that has typically not received much attention from coalition forces.
Helsinki was a combined counter-insurgency operation, which was conducted in partnership with the Iraqi army, to help enable legitimate governmental organizations and to provide security for the citizens in the Bichigan peninsula, said 1st Sgt. Timothy Seeber, Charlie Company First Sergeant.
Seeber called the Bichigan area, west of Balad, an al Qaida safe-haven that AQI flees to in order to avoid being killed or captured. "AQI is on the run here and they know we have the means and mobility to kill or capture them where they hide," said Seeber.
Helsinki began with a pre-dawn air assault into the fertile farmlands of the Bichigan area, which were heavily soaked with the early morning rain. With mud smeared on faces and firearms, Charlie Company Soldiers spent the day moving from house to house questioning residents and searching for AQI weapons caches along with Iraqi army soldiers.
The search turned up two weapons caches and resulted in the apprehension of a suspected AQI operative.
Since Charlie Company moved from FOB Caldwell near the Iranian border in early December, they have been instrumental in capturing three of the Balad area's high value targets and have discovered numerous weapon caches, said Staff Sgt. Tommy Pafford.
Much of the success that Charlie Company has had is due largely to spending a great deal of time out among the people and to the Sons of Iraq movement, which has enabled U.S. and Iraqi forces with quality intelligence about AQI operations in the area, said Pafford.
Spending time outside of the relative comfort of FOB Paliwoda has paid dividends for Charlie Company who often find themselves operating in austere conditions.
"Staying outside the wire overnight in the mud and cold is the norm for us," said Pvt. First Class Michael LaChappelle, who along with his fellow Charlie Company troopers found himself without a helicopter ride back to base on Feb. 15 due to poor weather conditions.
After spending much of Operation Helsinki cold and wet, the "Rock" Soldiers would have to bear the elements under a foggy, black Iraqi sky until the weather improved.
"My guys would walk to the end of this Earth if they were asked to," said Pafford. "They realize that this war is bigger than us."