Spc. Lee Elder
133d Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BAQUABAH, Iraq (Dec. 30, 2005) " It's been a year of triumph and tragedy for Soldiers with Company E, 2-69 Armor Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division.
The Fort Benning, Ga., unit is a mix of combat engineers and Military Police living with Iraqi Police and Police commandos at the Provincial Joint Communication Center in Baquabah. The U.S. and Iraqi forces have joined forces to make this community safer for everyone.
"A lot has changed," said Spc. Jason Rios, an MP attached to the company. "We don't get attacked as much as we used to since our quick reaction force and Iraqi Police are cleaning up."
Unit members said the center was under constant fire almost every day for their first six months. The center's one-meter thick brick walls bear the scars of bullets and mortar rounds.
The most devastating attack came on Aug. 23rd. As many of the unit members finished their lunch meal at 12:55 p.m., a suicide bomber blew himself up in the dining facility.
The blast killed one of the unit's officers, 1st Lt. Carlos Diaz, and one civilian law enforcement official, Mike Dawes, a Vietnam veteran who had served with the 82d Airborne Division. Six Soldiers were wounded and an Iraqi Policeman was also killed.
Despite the loss of life, Soldiers pulled together. They continue to impress visitors with their discipline and their appearance, but most of all with their performance.
"The unit held together on its own here," said Staff. Sgt. Charles Warner, the company's operations sergeant. "We've always been able to keep a positive attitude."
While most Soldiers in Iraq live on sprawling forward operating bases, Company E soldiers lived within the confines of the center. They lacked the amenities of the bases " no post exchange, no fast food and even hot chow was an every-other-day proposition.
They gave each other haircuts and often dealt with lack of running water.
Their only amenities were a big screen television, a pool table and a couple of internet computers. The unit chaplain would visit as much as possible.
"We were the only company in our brigade to live outside a FOB," Warner said. "You've got to be self sufficient."
Another veteran noncommissioned officer, Staff Sgt. James Snyder, served as one of the company's squad leaders. Snyder said he got the most satisfaction helping with the training classes for the Iraqi Police officers. He used his five years of civilian law enforcement experience to help teach Iraqis ethics, procedures and other law enforcement skills.
"I trust these guys I work with here," Snyder said emotionally. "They care about Iraq. They want Iraq to have freedom."
Unit members agreed that the Iraqis have made major gains during the past year. Their efforts have made the city safer and reduced the number of attacks on the center.
Still, there is work to be done. A solemn reminder came just a few days before unit Soldiers departed when the center was sealed off due to another suicide bombing threat.
Police and Soldiers responded quickly. An Air Force dog team cleared the building and everyone went back to their routine.
"I'm really happy to see all the good things we've done here," Snyder said. "I"d like to have seen more happen, but we'll leave that to the next guys."