By Staff Sgt. Scott Wolfe
Multi-National Division – Baghdad
BAGHDAD - The temperature in the shade was already well past warm at 9 a.m.
Fences channeled civilians past Iraqi army soldiers and civilian contractors, who were manning gates onto the International Zone of Baghdad.
The press of people moved along smoothly until a disturbance at the initial entrance to the IZ caused enough of a commotion that mothers with children and men in business suits stopped to turn around and stare, creating more burs and snags in what was a few minutes before, a simple, smoothly moving line.
Wading against the press of bodies, heading toward the disturbance, was a trio of American Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, along with their interpreter. The lead Soldier was Staff Sgt. Michael Janssen, a native of Castlewood, S.D. As he approached, he projected a sphere of calm authority as he arrived at the scene.
Using slow, sure hand gestures and a smattering of Arabic, the 6-foot, 5-inch Janssen got the distraught woman making the scene to calm down enough that her voice was at a normal speaking level.
He turned to the interpreter, Yori, who was at the side of the woman and her kids, asking him to speak with her and find out what the problem was.
Janssen leaned in to their conversation while his team members, Sgt. Kirk Miller and Spc. Enrique Galaz, helped direct the stream of people around the eddy created by the stopped woman.
Turning back to Janssen, Yori told him that the woman had papers that were slightly different from what usually came through the gate.
The Iraqi guards processing people at the gate, he said, did not want her to go through.
Janssen looked at the papers and acknowledged that they were different, but acceptable, before allowing the woman and her two boys through the gate and on to another checkpoint.
No fuss; no raised voice; no big deal.
For the assistant non-commissioned officer in charge of the pedestrian-only entry control point and his crew, the hustle and bustle, and sometimes dull roar of the ECP they man is an everyday occurrence that has become second nature to them.
Cpt. Stephen Walker, commander of HHB, 3rd Bn., 29th FA Regt., said nearly 2,300 people come through this point in a day's time.
Walker said he has faith in Janssen's ability to handle such a vital job because of his knowledge and experience.
"I trust Staff Sgt. Janssen," said Walker.
Miller nodded his head in agreement as Galaz opened up about his NCO.
"Staff Sgt. Janssen knows his stuff. He's a good NCO because he listens. He listens to his soldiers; he wants to know what is going on with them, with their families. He listens."
The ECP job might be old hat to Janssen, but then so is Iraq. This is his third tour here, all with the 4th Inf. Div.
With his multiple tours, he has a different perspective now than that of his first tour.
"It has been more rewarding to give back to the [Iraqi] people than the first time," said Janssen, speaking of his time deployed during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I've seen the Iraqi people change; I've seen our army change. There has been a lot of progress."
Going into more detail, he spoke of the trash being cleaned up, roads and schools being rebuilt, and people's attitudes towards the U.S. Soldiers in general.
He also brought up the help local civilians are providing by bringing them information.
"We get a lot of intelligence sources come through here," he said, extending his hand and arm to encompass the gated entrance to the IZ. "Most of them are normal people just tired of living in a war zone. They know we want to help, so they're trying to make a difference."
The ECP allows him to get a close-up look at the Iraqi people, something he didn't get with his first two tours, he said.
"Normal people are trying to help make their country better," he pointed out. "Now that is progress."