News: Tomahawks verify polling security
Story by Pfc. Kimberly Lessmeister
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment "Tomahawks" slowly walked around a school in Saab al Bor, southwest of here, and inspected the area where locals will enter to vote during, March 7, elections.
The Soldiers of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division checked on local polling sites, Feb. 21, to validate entrance security assessments made by Tomahawk leadership and their Iraqi counterparts.
As a team, Tomahawk and IA Soldiers have been scouting polling sites for weeks with U.S. Soldiers listening to and facilitating the plans of the IA, said Lt. Col. Mike Lawrence, commander, 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt.
"As an American, I can drive up, I can look at [the polling site and] I can figure out what's supposed to happen," said Lawrence; "But as Americans, this is not our election, so we're not running the site."
Lawrence and Maj. James Van Atta, 2nd Bn., the 23rd Inf. Regt. operations officer, chose to physically visit the polling sites instead of reading a report about them from their desks.
"We have a mission to assist in the security of elections without conducting the security operations ourselves, so we have to ensure that the Iraqi Army, with our support, has what they need to secure the elections," said Van Atta. "You can't do that without looking at it [from] on the ground."
Tomahawk Soldiers offer assistance to the Iraqi security forces in the form of extra planning that may not have been considered and equipment such as sand bags and concertina wire.
"If it's not on the paper, it's not on the plan; They haven't thought about it," said Lawrence.
A few things the Tomahawks looked for during the poll security assessments were entry collection points. Once they identified ECPs, the Soldiers decided how to make sure the flow of voters would run smoothly throughout the Election Day.
"You can't have people go in and out through the same point," said Lawrence.
Most of the security plans handed up by Tomahawk officers matched what extra protection would be needed, as seen on site by Lawrence and Van Atta, while others were taken into deeper consideration.
"We had a couple of polling sites where the report on paper was not what was on the graph," said Van Atta, a Highlands Ranch, Colo., native. "[We will] get someone back out there to make sure that we're going to get it right."
In order to improve security plans, Lawrence and Van Atta met with Col. Thamir, an Iraqi police chief, Lazim Mutlag, the Taji Qada council chairman, and the principal and assistant principal of one of the schools that will be used as polling site, and a municipal representative.
Each person brought up significant polling conflicts that would be brought up in elections security meetings and ultimately allow safe and successful elections.
"[A] successful election leads to a stable seating of the government [which] leads to a stable Iraq which allows us to move forward with the drawdown that's already in motion," said Van Atta; "But if we take our eye off the ball before the elections and don't ensure [the security of the polls], then we'll have to reset and go backward rather than forward in this country."