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The US Central Command has changed their layout, so I can now give you the link. Before, you would have had to move your mouse from side to side along the bottom of the screen to read the articles. Now it looks fantastic! (That reminds me, I have to change my link!) Here we go:

Afghan Commandos graduate Armorer Training Program.
by Media Center Bagram
Jan. 7, 2008
Bagram Media Center
.

An Afghan National Army Commando weapons specialist, attending the inaugural Commando Armorer Training Program, demonstrates the proper procedures to clean, inspect and reassemble an M-240B machine gun. After graduating the eight-week course, armorers are responsible for the complete inventory and maintenance of all special equipment assigned to their Commando Kandak.

POL-E-CHARKI, Afghanistan — Eight ANA weapons specialists graduated from the first-ever Commando Armorer Training Program this month. They were taught how to use the unique specialties of a Commando sqaud. It was an eight-week course, and they learned how to use special weapons, become armorers, learn how to inspect, repair and reassemble all weapons systems used by the Commando Kandaks (battalions). [Continue reading.]

Very educational, indeed!

Iranian boats approach U.S. Navy ships.
by U.S. Fifth Fleet Public Affairs
January 8, 2008
US Naval Forces Central Command
.

A small Iranian boat approaches a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf. (From Defense Department Video).

BAHRAIN (NNS) — Following a routine transit through the Strait of Hormuz Jan. 6, three U.S. Navy ships operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf were approached by five Iranian small boats that demonstrated irresponsible confrontational behavior near the U.S. ships. [Continue reading.]

If you want to hear more bs on why we didn’t blow them to smitherines, go ahead and read it. Yes, I am still pissed. Those are our men and women on those ships. Can anyone say, “USS Cole”?

The Strait of Hormuz is international water, at least where we were. We should not have had to give them several warnings. That is counted as cowardice. They should get one warning and if that is not adhered to, they should have been blown up. PERIOD. Who would challenge us for protecting our people? DO YOU REALLY FREAKIN’ CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT OPINIONS? Well, I CARE ABOUT OUR LIVES. So stuff it.

Marines train Iraqi Soldiers for battlefield success.
by USMC Billy Hall
Jan. 08, 2008
MNF-I
.

In this file photo, Iraqi Soldiers with 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division practice clearing a building at Camp Al Asad, Aug. 18. Marines from 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division were working with the Iraqi Soldiers to teach them close quarters combat. The U.S. Marine Corps remains committed to training the Iraqi Soldiers to one day stand on their own. Photo by Cpl. Shane Keller, Joint Combat Camera Center.

QAIM, Iraq — Iraqi Soldiers are learning to fight and win on the battlefield with a little help from the U.S. Marines. Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, are not only are engaged in a constant training cycle with Marines at Combat Outpost North; they are excelling at it. In the brisk winter breeze, Military Transition Team members partnered with Marines from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, integrated key Iraqi Soldiers into their execution of several reactionary drills.

The Iraqi Soldiers observed and then participated in immediate-action and break-contact drills with the Marines so they could, in turn, teach their junior Soldiers the same tactics and procedures. [Continue reading.]

Things appear to be coming along pretty smoothly when the Marines show up. 😉

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Source: CentCom.

30 November 2007
By Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith
2nd Marine Logistics Group
.

AL ASAD, Iraq — Lance Cpl. Allen R. Rossi said the closer service members get to a possible land mine or improvised explosive device, the less worried they become. “You won’t feel a thing if it goes off that close,” explained the Camden, Ohio, native.

That’s why the members of the Obstacle Clearing Detachment walk a few meters ahead of everyone else. ‘Never step where we haven’t swept’ is their motto and they live by it, sweeping the dusty, trash-laden roads to ensure quick and safe passage for the convoys behind them.

The Marines of OCD, Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) embed with convoys to clear the roadways of debris, minefields or anything else that could impede the movement of vehicles and troops. “They’re basically putting themselves in harm’s way so that the convoy can move safely and isn’t slowed,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael A. Leisure, the chief of Combat Engineer Platoon and a Parkersburg, W. Va., native.

The team also searches for improvised explosive devices and weapons caches, and when it finds them, calls in an explosive ordnance disposal team for disposal. “The main goal is to find anything before it goes off,” said Sgt. Levi A. Gundy, a detachment team leader and Keokuk, Iowa, native. “It’s hard to explain how to get comfortable with it.”

By trade, these Marines are combat engineers, a job that normally entails building structures, breaching entryways and providing security. Assignment to the clearing detachment is an additional duty that poses its own potential dangers, but Marines like Cpl. Jamison A. Elsmore, a detachment team member, said they prefer the unique challenge the OCD missions provide. “It’s one of the most important jobs out here,” explained the Plymouth, Minn., native. “Wherever anyone’s going, they’re going to need to arrive safely. We’re one of the few guys who can offer that to them.”

The hardest part of the job, according to Elsmore, is the difficulty of spotting many of the dangers they are looking for. Often times, trash lines the streets and the roads are covered with a fine sand the Marines refer to as moon dust. The small size of many of the objects they’re searching for also causes a problem. Improvised explosive devices vary in size and shape and littered roadways are ideal for concealment.

Leisure said the OCD Marines are “true professionals” and although many of the Marines are on their first deployment, they handle the tasks assigned to them without hesitation. “They’re very efficient and by the time they come (back to Iraq), they’ll be maturing corporals teaching their Marines the same things,” he said. “We like to have fun, but as soon as we cross that (entry control point), it’s game on.”

Photo – AL ASAD, Iraq – Lance Cpl. Allen R. Rossi sweeps a metal detector in search of wires, improvised explosive devices, ordnance or anything that would impede the movement of the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15. Rossi and the other members of the Obstacle Clearing Detachment are responsible for clearing anything that would slow down a convoy. Rossi is a combat engineer and OCD team member with Combat Engineer Platoon, Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). Rossi is a Camden, Ohio, native. Photo by Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith.

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Source: CentCom.

07 November 2007
By Sgt. 1st Class Rick Emert
1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Set up in five trucks with heavy machine guns, enemy forces sat in wait for a helicopter to fly over their location west of Baghdad on the last day of May. It appeared their plan was to strike a blow to Multi-National Division-Baghdad by taking down a U.S. Army helicopter.

The enemy forces were trained and prepared with personnel to drive the trucks, man the guns and keep a lookout for any of the U.S. helicopters that patrol the skies of Baghdad in search of roadside bomb emplacers or insurgent mortar teams.

The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade’s Apache crews had become a thorn in the insurgency’s side by regularly disrupting terrorist attacks on Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians.

As they waited, four Apache pilots from 1st “Attack” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, were getting an intelligence briefing before heading out on their mission. The intelligence indicated that there were up to 30 gun trucks in a specific area, and the pilots’ mission was to check it out.

With both determination and caution, 1st Lt. Brian Haas, chief warrant officers 4 Steven Kilgore and Elliott Ham and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Cole Moughon took to the skies to check the validity of the report. All four said they thought from the onset that some sort of engagement was imminent. They expected to find at least several trucks with gun mounts that could easily be modified to attack air and ground assets.

The two Apache crews, each with a pilot in command and a copilot-gunner, came up on a truck and sedan that stopped suddenly; the occupants quickly exited the vehicles and low crawled toward a ditch. The crews didn’t know if this meant the people were being cautious, preparing for a possible engagement by taking cover, or if they knew that an engagement was imminent.

“That instantly heightened our awareness; something is going on out here,” said Kilgore, a Portage, Ind., native. “These people aren’t just scared of us. They may be a little bit, to an extent, but there’s something going on out here. We started keeping an eye open.” It didn’t take long for their suspicions to be confirmed.

“I remember … thinking this is weird; something’s up,” said Moughon, from Gray, Ga. “We (in the lead aircraft) heard (Kilgore) make the call over the radio: “Hey, I’m taking fire at my rear.” We heard (Haas) say there was a big gun. I looked over to my right, and I was about to say: “Oh, I got it.” I just got out “oh.” I could see the flash from the muzzle. I saw a stitch of dirt in the road coming up towards us.” It was even worse than the intelligence report had predicted; the trucks had more than just weapon mounts.

“We were looking for trucks with mounts – not trucks with heavy machine guns looking to kill us,” Moughon said. “At that point, it was pretty scary, because I knew – back in February, we lost an aircraft to heavy machine gun fire – we knew what the deal was right away. We knew that we were in something pretty dangerous.”

Kilgore spotted a gun truck about one-and-a-half kilometers away shooting at the helicopters, but there was a much more ominous threat. “We started taking fire from my right side about 1,500 meters away,” Kilgore said. “What I didn’t know is there was another gun about 300 meters away in the same line that started shooting at the same time. That rattled the aircraft. It didn’t hit … but rattled the aircraft.”

A seasoned Apache pilot with multiple deployments under his belt, Kilgore initially thought his aircraft had been hit. “We were so close to the gun that when the aircraft started to rattle, I thought I was taking hits,” Kilgore said. “I actually saw muzzle flashes from it. It was about 250 to 300 meters out my right door.” Within a couple of minutes, the Apache crews had gone from searching for the gun trucks to becoming the targets of a planned ambush by the enemy forces. “I was definitely at a position of a disadvantage, and I needed to gain an advantage,” Kilgore said. “That meant … moving out away from that (gun truck) to get out of his ability to track me. I was able to put a salvo of (rockets) on that gun truck and clear that gun truck. We came back later and destroyed the gun truck.”

Both aircrews broke contact safely, and then came back in to engage the trucks and insurgents.
The trail aircraft had disabled one of the trucks, and Moughon and Ham in the lead aircraft took out another one on the second pass. “They broke off that truck, and we followed them out and then came back in. (Ham) called and said he had trucks fleeing to the north,” said Haas, from Ashley, N.D. “They came around and engaged there. We came in behind them and just kind of suppressed again as they were breaking. They shot another missile. I think we made two more passes.”

With nearly half of the gun trucks already disabled, the aircrews were not about to let some of them get away to launch an ambush on another aircraft. “I saw three trucks with machine guns in the back in kind of like a straight trail formation hauling … down the road,” Moughon said. “As soon as I got the sight on them, I launched the missile. I saw the guy swing his gun around and just a bright flash of the gun firing. The (driver) braked. The missile hit right in front of the truck and didn’t do anything. We broke, I think (the trail aircraft) suppressed, then we came back around and fired another missile.

“(It was) the same thing; the guy knew what he was doing. He slammed on the brakes, but this time it killed the driver. That caused him to careen into his buddy and pushed him off the road. We further engaged with the (30mm) gun and got several guys that were running away. We just started (destroying the weapon systems) from there.” The seemingly determined enemy forces had blinked and tried, without success, to flee.

“Once they knew that we weren’t going to run away from them, that’s when we got the advantage and just got real aggressive,” Haas said. “I think that helped us, because we got noise and rockets flying off the helicopter, and they saw that and they knew they were in for it.”

A couple of days later, with plenty of time to reflect on the engagement, the pilots realized there were some things they could have done differently. “In this situation, you’re going to make mistakes,” Moughon said. “It’s not like (training) back at Fort Hood where we’ve got time. Everything was heat of the moment. You had to get rounds out. It was all a matter of who made fewer mistakes – whether or not you were going to be going home. Obviously, we made fewer mistakes than the enemy.”

While that may have been true about their actions during the 15 intense minutes that the engagement lasted, the Apache crews were simply more prepared, thanks to a whole team of Soldiers from the 1st ACB who provided support back at home base, Kilgore said. He explained that the information on the gun trucks from the brigade’s intelligence report, the operational briefing from the brigade operations staff and the aircraft maintenance and armament personnel all contributed to the mission’s success.

“All of that led to us being successful in this engagement,” Kilgore said. “Yes, we were the executors – the four of us – but, there is a big picture here that goes into everything we do. It’s really the Army aviation team that led to this win, this success. I think we can all take pride in that. We, 1ACB Army aviation, defeated the enemy. We did it pretty much by ourselves as aviation. We didn’t have ground forces with us. We didn’t use artillery. “We can see th[e] teamwork that went into it – across the board teamwork – we can see that tenacity that is being exhibited every day by these guys. I think it’s something we can all take pride in. This was a big win for the whole team.”

For their quick and heroic actions in the chaotic scene on May 31, the pilots were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses – the top aviation-specific military award. The awards were presented Oct. 28 by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, Multi-National Corps-Iraq commanding general.

“I’ve been an aviator my whole career, and I’ve always wanted to be an aviator, since I was a little kid,” Kilgore said. “The Distinguished Flying Cross … is a special award. For me to be included in that group that has received the Distinguished Flying Cross – it feels a little humbling. There have been a lot of great aviators who have received the Distinguished Flying Cross and great aviators who haven’t received the Distinguished Flying Cross. How do I match up to that? I don’t know; maybe it’s a one fight thing, and it was something special enough that someone took notice and thought that we deserved the Distinguished Flying Cross for it.”

For Moughon, it still hasn’t sunk in that he earned the prestigious medal. “When I got to the unit, my commander (for Company B, 1-227th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion) had gotten a DFC for acts in OIF II. I got to looking at it, because I wanted to know what it was,” Moughon said. “Then, I realized who all had got it before him. When somebody mentioned that we might get it, I thought: ‘I am not in their company.’ I’m just two years out of flight school. I was just trying to stay alive. Receiving the award was a very humbling experience and almost embarrassing. There are guys out here that do just as much every day – sacrifice every day to go out there and find the enemy and kill them. They don’t get recognized for it.”

While the pilots couldn’t pin down what made their actions heroic, perhaps how they approached the engagement itself is telling as to why they received Distinguished Flying Crosses. In the initial moments of the engagement, with bullets and tracers flying past their aircraft like something out of “Star Wars” – as Moughon said – and with the Apaches outnumbered nearly three to one by gun trucks on the ground, the pilots never even considered high-tailing it to safety.

“I can’t say that I thought: ‘We should get out of here.'” Haas said. “I don’t know why, but it never crossed my mind. Maybe that’s just the way we are. I didn’t come here to say: ‘Yep, there’s bad guys out there. I’m not going out there.’ I came over here to – I’m not going to be naïve and say to make a difference – but I came over here to do my job and do it to the best of my ability. There’s a lot of the guys that I’ve flown with before, and they’re the same way. The hard part is finding (the enemy). We fly around Baghdad where there are millions of people and they all look the same; unless somebody is shooting at you, you don’t know. When they shoot at you first, that makes it easy.”

“The initial contact was scary, and you thought about – yeah, this was a big deal,” Moughon added. “At that point, it was like they say in the westerns: ‘If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound.’ We were in it, so we had no choice. If we had just flown away, they probably would have been there to take somebody else down. We’re a gunship; that’s what we do. We don’t get low and suppress and run. We stay and fight. Our job is to go out, find the enemy and kill them. That’s what we do.”

Photo – Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, (left) presents the Distinguished Flying Cross to Onawa, Iowa, native Chief Warrant Officer Elliott Ham, (second from right), as Portage, Ind., native Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steven Kilgore, (right), waits in a ceremony Oct. 28 at Camp Taji, Iraq. Four Apache pilots from 1st “Attack” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, earned Distinguished Flying Crosses for their actions against five gun trucks with heavy machine guns on May 31. The Distinguished Flying Cross is the U.S. military’s highest aviation-specific award. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rick Emert, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.

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Source: US CentCom.

24 October 2007
By Staff Sgt. Russell Bassett
4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division
.

KHAN BANI SA’AD, Iraq – Working off a tip from a Concerned Local Citizen, Coalition Forces discovered a massive weapons cache Oct. 23 during the raid of a home in Sa’ada village, Iraq.

The cache marks the largest discovery of explosively formed penetrators ever found in Iraq at one location. The cache included 124 fully-assembled EFPs, 159 copper disks of four different sizes used in making EFPS (including 12-inch disks – one of the largest ever discovered in Iraq), 600-plus pounds of C4 and other explosive materials, 100 mortar rounds of various caliber, 31 107mm rockets, two mortar tubes and 20 claymore-type mines.

Soldiers of Troop B, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Lewis, Wash., detained the cache owner in the raid.

“My first concern was for my Soldiers,” said Capt. Jason Rosenstrauch, B Troop commander. “I was worried that the room was unstable because it smelled like explosives and nitric acid.

“A find like this helps keep my Soldiers morale up because they know they’ve made a difference,” Rosenstrauch continued. “It makes them feel good that they are saving Soldiers lives through their work.”

Sa’ada Village is located approximately five miles south of Khan Bani Sa’ad, a city in Diyala Province with a population of approximately 100,000 – half Sunni and half Shia. Six weeks ago, Iraqi Security Forces planned and executed Operation Justice League, clearing many al-Qaida in Iraq and anti-Coalition militia members out of Khan Bani Sa’ad. Before Justice League, CF, ISF and Iraqi civilians were regularly attacked by enemy insurgents, and local citizens were afraid to work with CF for fear of reprisals.

Rosenstrauch said the citizens of Khan Bani Sa’ad are now working closely with Coalition Forces to keep insurgents out of the city.

“We have a lot of peace in the city center now,” Rosenstrauch said. “We have had a ton of CLCs reporting on enemy activity. The people are turning on the insurgents and telling us where they are.”

Photo – Soldiers carry mortar rounds found in a hidden room in a home in Sa’ada Village, Iraq, Oct. 23. A tip from a concerned local citizen lead Soldiers to a massive weapons cache in the home. (U.S. Air Force phot/Staff Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.)

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26 Aug 07
by Multi-National Division-North
Public Affairs Office
.

BAGHDAD – Operation Lightning Hammer concluded Wednesday after a 12-day, large-scale operation to disrupt al-Qaeda and other terrorist elements in the Diyala River Valley, a complex area of villages and palm groves in Iraq’s Diyala province.

The operation, which involved approximately 16,000 Iraqi and Coalition forces clearing approximately 50 villages, was a key element in Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s overall operation, Phantom Strike; and resulted in 26 al-Qaeda members killed, 37 suspected terrorists detained and the discovery of 10 weapons caches. “The strength and determination of the fighting men and women from the Iraqi and Coalition forces showed great results during Lightning Hammer,” said U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of Coalition forces in Diyala province. “We have continued to diminish their supplies and disable al-Qaeda’s abilities to disrupt the population.”

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, partnered with members of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, initiated the operation with a late-night air assault into targeted locations on Aug. 13, and conducted an additional three air-assaults during the course of the operation. Residents of most villages welcomed the security forces, providing tips and intelligence about recent activities in their towns, and were interested in joining the Iraqi Security Forces. Following clearing operations, the Iraqi Army provided medical assistance and humanitarian aid to the local citizens, many of whom said their villages were recently influenced by al-Qaeda.

More importantly, more than 80 tribal leaders and representatives, some of whom had not spoken in over a year, met Aug. 19 to discuss their grievances and swore on the Quran to unite in their fight against terrorists and become one tribe of Diyala. “As I conducted my battlefield circulation and talked with many of the citizens, they repeatedly thanked our Soldiers, but more importantly, their security forces, for liberating their towns from the terrorists – specifically al-Qaeda,” Sutherland said. “Because their villages have been cleared, the local and central governments will now be able to provide those essential services al-Qaeda destroyed, and the people feel a sense of security they have not known for some time.”

Throughout the operation, the Task Force Lightning Soldiers also discovered 22 improvised explosive devices, 11 of which were discovered based on tips from a police chief in the river valley, and reduced three house-borne IEDs and six vehicle-borne IEDs, all of which could have been used to harm a large portion of the population or security forces. Additionally, an al-Qaeda command post was discovered in the village of Shadia, and an al-Qaeda medical clinic was located in Qaryat Sunayjiyah.

The command post, which was surrounded by fighting positions, contained bed space for 20 individuals, supply requests, records of munitions, a list of families supporting the element, a list of al-Qaeda members detained by Coalition forces and other terrorist propaganda. “Although we didn’t find many of the terrorists, the operation proved to be a great success because we disrupted al-Qaeda, causing them to run,” Sutherland continued. “Their fear of facing our forces proves that the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them in Diyala.

“And though this specific operation is over, our fight is not over,” he continued. “We will continue to aggressively target al-Qaeda, and ultimately, they will be brought to justice.” The results of Lightning Hammer cleared the Diyala River Valley of al-Qaeda and allowed Iraqi and Coalition forces to maintain a permanent presence in Mukeisha, a village in the heart of the river valley area.

Photo – Spc. Samuel Melendez, Bravo Trop, 5th Battalion, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, patrols a mrash outside of Qubah, a small village in the Diyala province. The patrol was part of Operation Lightning Hammer, a maneuver to flush insurgents from the area. Photo by Sgt. Patrick Lair, 115th MPAD.

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15 Aug 07
by Multi-National Division – Baghdad Public Affairs Office
.

Baghdad – Local citizens fed tips to Soldiers from the 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, which led to the finding of four weapons caches and the detaining of two suspects in multiple operations north of Baghdad, Aug. 8 and 9.

Troops from Battery B, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, attached to the 1st BCT, acting on a tip from a neighborhood watch volunteer, uncovered an improvised explosive devices cache near the town of Sab Al Bor, Aug 8. The cache included five complete IEDs and 12 incomplete IEDs. The cache also included 20 munitions of varying sizes, 100 pounds of homemade explosive, one can of nitric acid, some command wire as well as the tools necessary to manufacture IEDs.

The same day acting on a tip from a volunteer, Soldiers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, also of 1st BCT, found a 100 millimeter projectile, 10 80mm mortars, six IED timers, two rocket-propelled grenades and an accompanying booster. In two separate incidents also involving information garnered from volunteer sources, Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, working with their Iraqi counterparts from the 3rd Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division (Mechanized), unearthed two caches and detained two suspects.

In the first, while draining a canal, engineers from 2-8 Cavalry’s Sapper Company found three 60mm mortar rounds, two 82mm mortar rounds, one 120mm mortar round and one 122mm projectile Aug. 9 near Kem. In the second find, during a cordon and search, 2-8 Cavalry troops and Iraqi troops found 1 sniper rifle with two scopes, one AK-47 assault rifle with five magazines, a 9mm Glock pistol, a hand grenade and detained two suspects in connection with the cache near Al Dhabtiya, also on Aug. 9. All of the finds were further evidence of Ironhorse Soldiers’ success in working with Iraqi communities and volunteers to root out insurgents and extremists alike, said Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, 1st Brigade Combat Team’s deputy commanding officer.

“Cooperation by citizens and their volunteer security roles is what will turn the tide in securing Iraq,” said the Austin native. “We have the largest reconciliation and volunteer movement in Multi-National Division-Baghdad. We fully support Iraqis taking an active role in securing their neighborhoods, towns and villages to stop the violence which hinders the government’s delivery of essential services and an environment that enables small business opportunities and growth.”

Local Iraqis have grown tired of the al-Qaeda stranglehold and they are taking back their communities and their lives, according to Andrysiak. “Their efforts, along with that of the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, may prove to be the turning point,” he added.

Photo – Soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment take defensive fighting positions, while their commander talks with locals inside the fenceduring a cordon and search in Husseniya. Photo by Sgt. Rachel Ahner.

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9 Aug 07
by Master Sgt. Steve Horton
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
.

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) – When terrorists tried shooting mortar rounds at Balad Air Base in July, they didn’t count on the tireless, unblinking eye of an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle overhead, transmitting their every move to Airmen on the ground here.

Airmen assigned to the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron here kept the Predator overhead July 24 watching the men while they confirmed what they were seeing with a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. After confirmation, the order was given for the Predator to launch an air strike and moments later a Hellfire air-to-ground missile struck the terrorists’ car when they fled, killing the three terrorists.

“The Predator crews go through the same targeting and approval processes as a pilot flying another strike aircraft before shooting a weapon,” said Col. Marilyn Kott, the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander. “They coordinate with ground forces to confirm targets and coordinate on the best course of action for the situation.

Sometimes the best course of action is launching an air strike, other times it can mean remaining overhead to observe or follow possible insurgents as they move around the countryside. “The crews flying the Predator report possible enemy activity and give the joint terminal attack controller and the ground and air commanders the opportunity to decide what they want to do with that information,” Colonel Kott said. “They can agree that the activity needs to be stopped right away and can target the perpetrators.” Because the Predator has a long loiter time, it is an ideal platform for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, so the 46th ERS mission load has increased.

June, a busy month for most U.S. and coalition forces conducting and supporting combat operations throughout Iraq, was a record setting month for the 46th ERS. They recorded a record number of combat sorties and flying hours for the Predator during the month. More than 175 combat sorties were generated, producing 3,279 flying hours.

July was just as busy for Predator operations. The 46th ERS flew the same number of combat sorties as in June, but increased flying hours to more than 3,300.

“It says a lot about how much the Predator is employed and how busy the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing is now as opposed to some previous periods of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Colonel Kott said. “That’s partially because the wing and the (continental United States) Predator units have increased OIF Predator capability, developing logistics and technologies to make the system more successful in a deployed environment.” And with success comes more requests for the Predator’s service.

“The air battle staff asks for the Predator constantly because it provides such a fine (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform, and it’s always airborne,” the colonel said. “The objective here is to find and follow activity that might be aiding the insurgents.”

“The sorties and hours are increasing as a result of increased demand,” said Maj. Jon Dagley, the 46th ERS commander. “Currently, the Predator is the most requested asset in theater. As warriors continue to recognize how the Predator works, what it brings to the fight, and what it can do for them, its demand will only continue to skyrocket.”

Even with the number of sorties and flying hours increasing, the colonel is quick to point out the rigorous thought process that goes into the decision to launch an air strike or not. “The (improvised explosive devices) terrorists are planting, for example, don’t just affect our convoys, they pose a danger to civilians living here too,” Colonel Kott said. “The more surgical we can be at stopping insurgent behavior, the better (it will be) for the civilians trying to get on with their lives.”

The 46th ERS, consisting of less than a dozen Airmen, is responsible for the takeoff and landing of Balad AB’s fleet of Predators as well as flying operations within a 25-mile radius of the base. Every sortie is manned on the ground by a pilot, who flies the aircraft and controls the weapons system by remote control, and a sensor operator, who controls the camera view and laser targeting system on the aircraft.

Once the Predator is in the air, the pilot and sensor operator will locate a target point used to zero in the weapons system. The sensor operator works with ground members to ensure the laser, which guides the Predator’s weapons system, is on target. When the weapons system has been zeroed in, the pilot prepares to hand control of the Predator to Airmen stationed halfway around the world at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., or at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

“The Predator is coming into its own as a no-kidding weapon versus a reconnaissance-only platform,” Major Dagley said. “The work it is doing with its precision-strike capability on top of top-notch ISR, is forcing many people to stand up and take notice. It is forging new ground almost daily. It is paving the way for future technologies and applications, and, as a result, tactics.”

By coming into its own as a weapon, to compliment its ISR capability, the number of Predator sorties and flying hours will continue to increase. That’s good news to U.S. and coalition forces, and bad news to the terrorists who think they can continue to threaten the security of Iraq.

Photo – Capt. Richard Koll, left, and Airman 1st Class Mike Eulo perform function checks after launching an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle Aug. 7 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. Captain Koll, the pilot, and Airman Eulo, the sensor operator, will handle the Predator in a radius of approximately 25 miles around the base before handing it off to personnel stationed in the United States to continue its mission. Both are assigned to the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. Photo by Master Sgt. Steve Horton.

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6 Aug 07
By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma
Headquarters, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
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CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq – Texas-based “Thunderhorse” Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, are pushing projects to improve the quality of life for the residents of northwestern Baghdad.

During a routine patrol through the streets of the Iraqi capital’s Shula neighborhood Aug. 1, the tan-colored Humvees, manned by Company A’s 2nd “Dirty Deuce” Platoon, made several stops, one at a near-deserted all-boys school and another at an electric substation.

“We’ll go in there and get a quick assessment and see what we need. If it is something we can handle at the battalion level through surplus funds. We’ll go ahead and start initiating a project,” 1st Lt. Jonathan Gilotti said.

School’s Out

On their first stop, the Soldiers set foot into an all-boys primary school. Gilotti, the officer in charge of the information operations campaign, initiated a conversation to find out what the unit could do to help the community. The native of Avon, Conn., said that when he asked about the problems the school needed assistance with, he got a somewhat expected response, similar to all the schools in the area – this is one of seven in their sector.

“There was very little electricity, water problems, the walls needed slight renovations, more tables and chairs were needed, but nothing too big,” he said. “Things like tables and chairs or a small project like a basic sewage problem we could usually handle that at the battalion level through our surplus funds, which is basically the commander’s emergency relief fund.

“The battalions are allocated a certain amount of money they can use for civil military operations related projects,” he said. “Basically, any project that we can perform that benefits the community.”

With notes scribbled on pocket size pad of paper and a couple megabytes of digital images loaded onto his camera, the Dirty Deuce rolled out to their next stop.

Power to the People

When the wheels came to a halt once again, the Soldiers found themselves parked in the gated area of the Hurriya Kabil electrical substation, which provides power directly to the neighborhoods in their area of operation: Shula’s Al Katieb, Rhamanyia and Jawadine. With a jolly, big-bellied interpreter by his side, Gilotti discovered a serious obstacle between the people of the area and their electricity. Gilotti said that the substation is located right next to a busy route known for it’s improvised explosive devices. On June 13, one of their lines was damaged by crossfire that cut the plant’s capability in half, forcing people to rely on personal generators.

When issues arose about two months ago, the unit sent out Soldiers to distribute neighborhood generators. The community responded with resounding contentment with the electrical situation, said Gilotti. He explained that the area is under a different type of influence.

“JAM (Jaish Al Mahdi militia) does two things against the Americans. One, it will go against us in kinetic operations, EFP (explosively-formed projectile) attacks, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attacks, small arms fire attacks, and at the same time, they will target us in a negative information campaign,” the armor officer said. “They’ll campaign against us saying ‘The Americans won’t provide services for you. Americans don’t do anything to help the community out.’ So, they will get the locals to turn against us and they won’t give up information about the terrorists that operate in the area that conduct attacks on us.”

It wasn’t until recently when the “Thunderhorse” Battalion started conducting more humanitarian projects that the locals realized that JAM wasn’t providing the services while the Americans were making attempts.

“They started working with us, trying to give us as much information as possible so in turn we kept pushing to do more and more projects and start doing more assessments to see what else we could do for the community,” said Gilotti.

Providing the Visibility

Gilotti is the liaison between patrol reports and the next level of civil military operations.

“I’ll turn it over to the civil military operations team for our brigade and they’ll bring out actual specialists who will look at the project, see where the loose ends are that need to be tied together and they will start working with [the] ministry of electricity and [the] government of Iraq to start (to) get the ball rolling,” he said. “I am a simple reporter,” Gilotti said, adding that he will continue reporting and pushing projects to his higher-ups. “Sometimes when you really do want to make a difference, you have to be a pain … you’ve got to keep pushing and pushing … and that’s what makes a difference.”

Although the unit hasn’t seen the long-term effects because of the frequency of attacks in their area of operation, he said, they have seen the initial reaction of the people by taking an interest in their well-being. “In the time that the battalion is here, what we can do is provide a little bit of comfort to the community,” Gilotti said. “If locals can say, ‘While this unit was here they took an interest in our quality of life and made an effort to make a difference and we appreciate it,’ that is sometimes all we can ask for.”

Photo – 1st Lt. Jonathan Gilotti, officer in charge of information operations with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, gets information from employees of the Hurriya Kabil electrical substation in Baghdad’s Shula neighborhood Aug. 1. The Soldiers of 2-12th Cavalry operate in Baghdad’s northwestern neighborhoods as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. Photo by Spc. Jeff Ledesma.

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Coalition Reclaims al-Jamea’a

30 July 07
By Spc. Alexis Harrison
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
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BAGHDAD – As Operation Arrowhead Ripper moves along in Diyala, ever so quietly, Operation Rogue Thunder swept through a section of the capital in hopes of ridding the area of anti-Iraqi forces for good.

The 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army, their Military Transition Team and Soldiers from the U.S. 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, cleared al-Jamea’a of caches, bombs and insurgents while helping to ramp up security efforts to reclaim the area terrorized and bullied by al-Qaeda.

Terrorists in the area had been ruthlessly controlling every action of the people according to Maj. Chris Norrie, the transition team’s commander. Women were forced to cover their faces, men were arrested for no apparent reason and children weren’t even allowed to play soccer in the streets.

At one time al-Jamea’a was occupied by white-collar professionals until insurgents began scare tactics that led many of the well-off residents to leave their homes. Many of the mansion-sized homes in the neighborhood are empty, and as Capt. Peter Kilpatrick said, the empty homes are seen as an opportunity for insurgents to move in.

“Only 30 percent of al-Jamea’a was occupied,” said Capt. Kilpatrick. “The vacancies made it vulnerable.”

Several caches had been found during previous operations around the Najra Mosque area. During the first day of this operation, streets and shops around the mosque were empty. A few people cautiously came out to see the Humvees, tanks and Iraqi army vehicles stage. This would begin the lengthy process of securing the area.

Sgt. Kenneth Swartwood said many of the residents are happy to see the Coalition forces move into their neighborhood. More importantly, the combined presence of Iraqis and Americans working together proved to the people just how important the area’s security was.

“We came in with open arms to the Iraqi army,” said Sgt. Swartwood. “A big reason Adel and Jamea’a are good now is because of the partnership with the IA. They actually worked with them hand-in-hand. The civilians feel a lot better when it’s a partnership. They feel like it’s twice as secure.”

After many of the new security measures were in place, the commander of the Iraqi Army battalion, Col. Raheem went to the mosque to use its loudspeaker to make an announcement to the people in the neighborhood.

He let it be known to the people that coalition forces were in the area to make a change for the better. He said security will improve for the people and that they have not only God watching them, but the entire coalition.

“Almost immediately, people began to come out of their homes,” Col. Raheem said. “These people deserve to live in peace after al-Qaeda had oppressed them for so long.”

Now that security measures are in place, Capt. Kilpatrick said coalition forces in the area will have 24-hour surveillance over the entire area.

“We’ve established several static positions,” he said. “However, I don’t think locals would have felt comfortable with putting a coalition outpost next to the mosque without help from the Iraqis.”

Col. Raheem said many of the locals feel that having a combined presence in the area is good and that it helps gain the trust of the people even faster.

Photo – The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, Col. Raheem, points out locations of traffic control points and other security measures being placed in Al Jamea’a during Operation Rogue Thunder. The Iraqi army battalion, along with a Military Transition Team and Soldiers from the U.S. 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, swept the area and implemented several new security measures during the operation. Photo by Spc. A. Lexis Harrison.

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