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    The Professionals: As "Surge" deployment winds down, Paratroopers look back on all they've accomplished

    The Professionals: As 'Surge' deployment winds down, Paratroo

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Michael Pryor | Pfc. Jacob Jonza (left), and Sgt. Daniel Grime of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 325th...... read more read more

    By Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor
    2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division

    BAGHDAD – Most of Sha'ab was still sleeping as a Humvee weaved its way through the neighborhood's maze-like streets early one frigid, January morning.

    Commanding the patrol was 1st Lt. Austin Dziengelewski's platoon of paratroopers from B Co, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. The patrol was on their way to a squatter village in the area, where displaced families were living in makeshift tents. With the temperatures dropping below freezing at night, the paratroopers were worried people in the camps might freeze to death. The platoon's mission was to find them and see what help they needed.

    As the humvee rounded a corner, the squatter village appeared. The vehicles pulled up and the platoon dismounted. With breath steaming out of their mouths in the chill air, the paratroopers picked their way through the ramshackle camp. It was a nest of tents, tarps, and scrap metal that looked as if it had been picked up and dropped there by a tornado.

    The head of the family emerged from one of the tents and spoke with Dziengelewski. He told the lieutenant that sectarian violence had forced him and his family to flee their home in another part of Baghdad and settle in Sha'ab.

    "Why here?" Dziengelewski asked him.

    "It is safe here," the man replied.

    After Dziengelewski promised to return later with blankets, tarps, and food, the platoon headed back to base. On the ride back, the man's seemingly insignificant words hung in the air.

    It is safe here.

    A year's worth of work, translated into four words. When the White Falcons first arrived in Sha'ab with the mission of improving security, the neighborhood was gripped by constant violence. Twelve months later, it is safe enough that families flee to it as a sanctuary.

    For paratroopers like Spc. David Higuera, a medic with Company B from Phoenix, Ariz., the area's revival against all odds is a point of pride.

    "After a year, when you look back on how it was, compared to now – things are definitely a lot better," Higuera said

    "I know for a fact that when I look back on all this, I'll be proud of what we did," he said.

    Welcome to the Neighborhood

    In February, the 325th Abn. Inf. Regt. became one of the first units to move into a battle space as part of Operation Fardh al Qanoon - the name for the strategy to stabilize violence in Baghdad by pushing thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers into the city's neighborhoods.

    The 2nd Battalion "White Falcons" were given the mission of securing Sha'ab, a mainly Shia district in eastern Baghdad dominated by violent militia gangs.

    The paratroopers set up their base, Combat Outpost Callahan, inside an abandoned, fortress-like shopping center. Inside the cavernous building, a layer of grime covered every surface and rats scurried along the exposed ceiling shafts. It had the feel of an underground bunker, even though it was five stories tall. Troops began calling it "the death star."

    From Callahan, the paratroopers began conducting patrols and operations at a relentless tempo that never slackened. Their priority in the first months was to aggressively target the militia groups and insurgent cells that were causing havoc in the neighborhood. Before long, they started to see results.

    According to battalion commander Lt. Col. Richard Kim, by the end of summer 2007, the paratroopers had captured the equivalent of an enemy battalion.

    The success came as no surprise to Westcliffe, Colo., native Capt. Will Canda, Company B's commander. Canda said no one is better than the White Falcons when it comes to "kinetic operations."

    "It's not an accident that Bravo Company has 135 guys in Camp Cropper and over 400 detained. It's because we do this stuff all the time, and we're very good at it," said Canda.

    Rising to the Challenge

    By spring, bodies had stopped turning up on the streets of Sha'ab, and Canda marveled at the number of arrests his troops had made.

    "We're literally running out of bad guys to catch," he said.

    With the security situation vastly improved, the White Falcons began focusing on complex counter-insurgency tasks such as improving the essential services in the area, training the Iraqi security forces, and strengthening the local government agencies.

    Staff Sgt. Robert Brogdon, of Erie, Penn., a squad leader with Company B, said the new emphasis on non-combat operations forced the paratroopers, most of whom are proud to be "door-kickers," out of their comfort zone. But Brogdon said they rose to the challenge.

    "We didn't do just the things we're good at or the things we liked to do, we did it all," he said. "We're professionals. Whatever they tell us to do, we're going to do it, and we're going to do it well."

    By networking with local leaders, renovating schools, and getting the trash picked up, the White Falcons were pursuing a strategy that had been meticulously mapped out at the highest levels of command. But for the Soldiers out pounding the pavement in Sha'ab, it all boiled down to something simpler, said Spc. Herrick Lidstone, of Littleton, Colo., a radio operator with Company B.

    "For us, we don't look at it in terms of the big picture," Lidstone said. "For us, it's just going out everyday and making the streets as safe as we can make them."



    Date Taken: 01.21.2008
    Date Posted: 01.21.2008 14:28
    Story ID: 15623
    Location: BAGHDAD, IQ 

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