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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Iraqis, Soldiers Make New Friends During Patrol in Suwayrah

From Multi-National Force - Iraq:

Staff Sergeant Brian Doty (left), of Orange, Va. and Cpl. Sam Weaver, of Fayetteville, N.C., both with Company B, 13th Psychological Operations Battalion, are accompanied by local children while on a foot patrol in the city of Suwayrah in northern Wasit province. Photo by Sgt. David Turner.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008
By Sgt. David Turner
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

COMBAT OUTPOST SUMMERS — Walking down the busy streets of Suwayrah at sundown, the city’s residents met Soldiers with handshakes and friendly smiles. Children gathered everywhere the Soldiers stopped to talk to residents.

As the patrol of Soldiers from 1st Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment continued on its way, the children followed, practicing their English and enjoying the early evening stroll.

“Wherever we roll, it’s like a parade,” said Sgt. Robert Delong, an infantryman from central Minnesota, whose previous deployment to Iraq was in Ramadi. This time around, he said, things are different.

Soldiers of Co. B, 2nd Bn., 6th Inf. Regt. conducted joint patrols with their Iraqi Army counterparts in the northern Wasit province. The patrol was not only a way of showing their presence, but to gather information on local businesses and to hear local citizens’ concerns.

Soldiers of Co. B’s 1st Plt. began their day with an early morning patrol in Raminiyah, along the west bank of the Tigris River, visiting Sons of Iraq checkpoints and talking with local citizens and community leaders. In the rural parts of Co. B’s area, where there are few police, the SoI help keep the roads safe and prevent insurgents and weapons from coming into the area. It’s an around-the-clock task, and many of the checkpoints have tents or shelters nearby where SoI members rest between shifts.

The Soldiers of Co. B, attached to the 1st Bn., 76th Field Artillery Regt., 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, make sure the checkpoints are manned and the SoI have what they need as part of their patrols.

Later, they met up with IA Soldiers of the 3rd Bde., 2nd IA Div. in the city of Suwayrah. After pairing up with their IA “battle buddies,” the Soldiers conducted a joint patrol on foot, taking them through the city’s main streets.

“At this stage we try to get the population on our side,” Delong said. “We try to maintain their happiness and give them things that they need. Basically, we ask them what they need, and we take notes.”

“It’s been unusual for me, because I’m not used to working with the population. This deployment, it’s candy and sunshine every day. People come out of their houses to see you. It’s been difficult for a lot of us vets to get used to. It’s just like talking to friends back home.”

Another difference Delong noted is the quiet.

“When I go to sleep, I don’t hear bombs going off. I don’t hear gunfire,” he said.

In recent years, Suwayrah has been a relative island of peace in comparison to its neighbors to the north and west. Since Company B arrived here more than two months ago, there have been no attacks aimed at Coalition forces, said Capt. Dustin Ornatowski, commander of Company B. With little insurgent or criminal activity in the area, his company’s main mission now is to help local citizens repair damaged infrastructure and build their economy, he said.

“Economics and infrastructure are the biggest problems in this area,” said Ornatowski, of Edwardsburg, Mich. “You’re always going to have leftover insurgency elements and criminal elements wherever you go. Right now, those elements are not actively fighting against us in this area,” he said.

Company B Soldiers are working to identify key leaders and find out what the communities in their area need the most. Currently, they hear mostly of the need for reliable electricity and water pumps to keep the region’s irrigation canals flowing, said Ornatowski. Many pumps are damaged or missing, and getting them running again is necessary to supply farmers in the area.

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