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    Soldiers balance warfare, diplomacy on Baghdad's streets

    Soldiers balance warfare, diplomacy on Baghdad's streets

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan | An Iraqi child shakes the hand of a Soldier of B Company, 252nd Combined Arms...... read more read more



    Story by Pfc. Kelly Lecompte 

    30th Armored Brigade Combat Team

    BAGHDAD — They're called grunts and ground pounders, but modern war fighters must be able to serve as warriors, mediators, instructors and even diplomats as they embark on operations that change not only daily, but sometimes even mid-mission.

    It's a constant balancing act, but infantrymen of Company B, 252nd Combined Arms Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, are doing just that.

    A recent night mission in southern Baghdad's Saydiyah neighborhood began as a joint patrol with Iraqi army soldiers of 2nd Commando. Although the aim was to let the Iraqis practice taking the lead on such missions, the neighborhood residents focused their spotlight on the Americans.

    As they walked the streets, U.S. Soldiers were greeted by Iraqi civilians like celebrities. Children ran to shake their hands and give them high fives, and people waved and smiled as the patrol moved through.

    Company B Soldiers said they get that reaction a lot.

    "There was one kid following me the other night," said Sgt. Dustin Butcher of Wilson, N.C. "Then there were three, then five, then a whole crowd. It was exponential."

    "Kids especially will flock to you in a skinny minute if you're not careful," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Mooring, of Pine Level, N.C., a platoon sergeant with B Co.

    Even though the Soldiers had to remain sharply guarded and ready to respond in a flash, they smiled and greeted the citizens. They're ready to be warriors, but had to act the part of public figures.

    Only a few minutes into the patrol, however, the Soldiers got a call on the radio to change the mission.

    A report of an explosive cache had come in, and the Soldiers had to pick up the brigade's explosives ordnance disposal team and take them to investigate.

    "Coalition activity takes precedence," said Sgt. Olin Wilkinson, of Greenville, N.C. "If we're doing anything else and we get a call to support them, we go."

    National police found the cache and Iraqi Gen. Fasil had requested American support to document the find and brag about his policemen's work.

    Company Soldiers changed gears from patrolling the streets to sharing dinner and investing in a little face time with Fasil and his policemen, an important part in maintaining a strong working relationship with the Iraqis.

    "Anywhere, we are ready," Fasil said to the Soldiers. "We are family."

    The next morning, a different group of Company B Soldiers went out on another joint patrol with the Iraqis to verify completion of a coalition-funded street light project.

    The American Soldiers usually put Iraqis in the lead.

    "We'll follow," said Staff Sgt. Michael Gallagher, of Holly Springs, N.C. "We'll let them take the lead and we'll be their muscle."

    But since it was the first time the U.S. Soldiers had worked with this particular group of IPs, the Americans led the patrol instead.

    This mission revolved less around diplomacy and making friends, and more around providing security and training the Iraqi policemen.

    "IPs haven't realized yet that they can take the lead," said Mooring. "They want to do it and once they see you've got security, they get confident and will start working."

    Mooring said missions with the Iraqis help build the locals' respect for the police.

    The Soldiers patrolled through a marketplace in the Saydiyah district. Though maintaining security was their primary concern, they balanced protection and politeness with market goers; remaining watchful but seeming relaxed.

    Mooring said the locals pay attention to the Soldiers' behavior, and sometimes even try to reassure them if the Soldiers seem too guarded.

    "If they see you with your weapon up too much, they'll come ask you, 'Do you feel safe?'" Mooring said.

    Mooring also said Soldiers must be able to read the people.

    "We can tell from the people if it's a bad neighborhood," Mooring said. "It's a tell-tale sign when the locals aren't nearly as friendly towards us."

    First Lt. Bruce Riggins, a platoon leader in B Co., said his Soldiers have to be sharp and able to think on their feet.

    "The battle field is ever changing," said Riggins, of King, N.C. "The enemy is smart. Soldiers have to pay attention and look at everything around them and process everything at once."



    Date Taken: 06.15.2009
    Date Posted: 06.15.2009 05:35
    Story ID: 35054
    Location: BAGHDAD, IQ 

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