News: Soldiers visit locals to instill pride, security, peace
Story by Spc. Ricardo Branch
Spc. Ricardo Branch
1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
COMBAT OUTPOST PATTON – They wander the desert, one behind the other, looking for signs of life. Instead of camels, they ride humvees and are out to find nomads on the edges of western Iraq.
As they traveled the desert, the Soldiers visited nomads throughout their sector to pass information about what's going on in Iraq, and make the locals feel accepted and part of the community.
The Soldiers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry aren't hunting insurgents but building relationships with the people outside of Combat Outpost Patton.
"We're trying to let these people know they matter," said Capt. Matt Marfongelli, Co. D, commander. "Many of the people in the sector we operate in are nomads, who travel with their sheep to numerous grazing areas."
They visit the nomads often to keep the trust and communication lines open.
"It's difficult to meet the locals out here because many of them are Bedouins," Marfongelli said. "The people who live in the cities often look at them as outcasts, so we want them to feel a part of the community around here."
The tree house, and area frequented by nomads, is just one of many key places they visit in their sector, which Soldiers believe is gradually helping turn the tide in the company's area.
"We've been building relations with these people for a while," he said. "About a week ago, we had a 14-year-old kid come up and give us information about some people he'd seen digging in an area."
The tip revealed people were digging where a roadside bomb had hit Soldiers.
"It's all about making them feel more comfortable around us," Marfongelli said. "The less they see us as occupiers and more as just friends or partners, the better it helps us get our mission done."
The trust of the people is the most crucial asset for the Soldiers operating out of the combat outpost.
"If they don't trust or like us, they can be just as involved in the attacks against us, which means there's more people helping the insurgents watch our movement," he said. "They tell you more if they are on your side, which helps us better accomplish our mission."
The outpost is surrounded by bare desert, leading to small hills. Since the Soldiers arrived in November, there have been months of little activity, but six roadside bombs have stirred up the question, is the area around the outpost becoming dangerous?
Marfongelli disagrees with the situation becoming worse.
"Compared to other areas across the country, I'd say no," he said. "Is it a little more dangerous? Yes, but it's always going to be dangerous because we're here in Iraq."
When the Soldiers first entered their new area, they had to deal with oil smugglers and illegal checkpoints. Marfongelli believes that more insurgent activity is the result of the increased presence of coalition forces in the area.
"They are trying to step things up because they are losing ground in many places across the country," he said. "We've increased our presence a lot; we'll keep talking to the locals, and we're getting the Iraqi security forces more involved to help keep the peace."
The Soldiers understand that the main reason things have improved in Anbar is not a direct result of their work, but the joint-effort between Iraqis and coalition forces.
"The Iraqi security forces here are doing great," said Staff. Sgt. Santo Nino, a tank commander with Co., D. "They are willing to learn and want to fight the insurgents."
Nino said that since they arrived, Iraqi police are out in greater numbers to visit people in the area and get them rallied behind the cause of freedom for all Iraq. Despite the big improvements, Nino and many of the Soldiers realize the work can't be done instantaneously and will require more time.
"I'm glad they are stepping up but more need to step up," Nino said. "We're going to need a presence in this area for some time still to get them independent. All of the Iraqis here are tired of the fighting and just want to have a normal life ... we're getting them to that point."