News: Eyes on the IZ: Police Protect and Serve in Baghdad's International Zone
Story by Maj. Jon Powers
By Maj. Jon Powers
50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
BAGHDAD - Community policing is a concept most police officers understand and actively practice. For some, it is their favorite part of police work.
In this particular community, officers will cruise through neighborhoods looking for something out of place. They walk and greet the people they come across, politely declining an offer for something cold to drink. They may swing by the local market and liquor store to check vehicles in the parking lot for anything illegal – and while they are there, pet the shop owner's dog. His name is JuJu, by the way, and he is the best looking dog in the city. It seems the only unusual thing about this community is that it is not small-town America, but the most complicated area in the world – the International Zone of Baghdad.
Unexpected is common, what's common can be dangerous, odd is normal and normal is always incredibly convoluted. This is what the Airmen of the JASG-C Law and Order Directorate (IZ police) deal with every day.
"I told them this was going to be a totally different deployment and you'll never see anything like this again," stated Lt. Col. Kelly Kanavel, Law and Order Director.
"Anybody can be a bad guy; you have to balance winning the hearts and minds with safety," said Kanavel. And unlike small town America, the IZ has big surprises for the IZ police.
"Everybody in the IZ has a gun. Everything is high-risk," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Funk, deployed from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Funk is one of the Airmen responsible for patrolling and policing this town.
"On a base, you may have one unauthorized person a month; here we have hundreds," said Kanavel. One 15-day period this September saw 255 separate escort violations.
To maintain security, the residents of the IZ are issued badges that determine where you can go and whether you can go there by yourself.
"When we arrived, it was like there's a new sheriff in town," said Funk. Encountering numerous escort violations initially, they went after them diligently.
"We set a record for escort violations," said Funk. Stopping and asking to see someone's badge is the most common event during a shift. Although the Security Forces are noticing a decline in undocumented individuals, they continue to be thorough.
The apartments in Area 215 are patrolled on foot. Often, the security forces find unauthorized workers there who are unable to locate their escort. To record their identity, a biometric identification unit scans retinas and fingerprints. Unauthorized persons are then removed from the IZ. Though security has improved in every way, there may still be some unfriendly elements. This makes patrols at night worrying.
On a recent patrol, Funk and his Airmen encountered a raucous group of Iraqis wielding AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades. If it weren't for the fact that these Iraqis were eight to ten years old and their weapons made of plastic, there may have been trouble. In fact, these youths wanted their "weapons" inspected by the Airmen, who were glad to do so. Throughout the entire patrol the Iraqi boys ran around and played with the Airmen, who took turns to entertain the boys yet keep an appropriate level of security.
Experience in the IZ proves that the most serious and complicated differences between people may have simple solutions. Funk has found barter as the easiest way to establish a beneficial relationship.
"Gatorade is the best political bargaining tool. We have gotten a lot of information just handing out Gatorades," he said.
Some Airmen in the IZ police have little experience to draw on.
Airman 1st Class Paige Wetherall, also from Hickam, had less than a year in uniform when she arrived in Iraq. "At Hickam, all the work was on the flight line. Here we had to take in a lot of things at once," said Wetherall. Now she routinely responds to incidents she could have never imagined.
"Things get chaotic; we have to get everyone calmed down," she said. In the few months deployed here she has probably seen a wider variety of policing than a whole career on a base. And there was never the possibility of an international incident like there is here. Stateside police officers deal with unexpected events; here, the IZ police can't imagine what to expect. Things out in the IZ defy the imagination. So their stories are proportionally unusual.
Just as an example, Airmen have had to swerve around a car driving with the hood up in the wrong lane – while a man worked on the engine. Dutch military misunderstood an order to search their vehicle, leading them to think their vehicle may be blown up.
Vehicles carrying political dignitaries that don't stop at temporary check-points may find a rolling road block 200 meters down the road. And how do these men and women handle these circumstances? Flexibility and creativity.
"We asked ourselves, 'How do you want to handle this?'" said Funk. And what was the solution? "We made SOPs on the fly."
"If one of us can't handle it, the other steps in; teamwork- you can't let one personality type rule the situation," noted Wetherall, showing that flexibility is still the most valuable trait in the American military and one an Airman must possess.
"The A1Cs have no problem coping because of our NCOs [non-commissioned officers]," said Kanavel. "We have a good mix; some Airmen are on their first deployment, some on their fourth."
Funk has also seen his junior Airman mature. "At first, we [NCOs] responded to everything; now it's the junior enlisted, they got it down, they have the confidence," he said. "Being deployed is being more than a supervisor – it's being an NCO- not just doing paperwork, you're making decisions. It gives the younger Airmen confidence."
Confidence they may need to lead on future rotations, protecting and serving, in a whole different world.