US Soldiers Step Back as Iraqis Take Lead
Dispatches from the Front:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HUNTER, Iraq, March 3, 2009 -- After two months of patrolling in northern Baghdad last summer, soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, helped reduce the rate of indirect fire received at the base there to its lowest levels since the war started in 2003.
With the intent of duplicating those results at their new location here, the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, also known as 'Black Dragons,' assisted the 41st Brigade, 10th Iraqi Army Division, during 'Operation Long Island,' Feb 24.
"This was the first time we worked with our IA counterparts for an extended period of time," said Sgt. Robert Bercera, a Black Dragon from Winnemucca, Nev. "I was surprised at how well they knew the area. They were cool-headed and anxious to take the lead."
The training programs provided by the Americans at Camp Dhi Qar and the Besmaya Range Complex, which is where all IA units do their training before being considered ready to conduct operations in southern Iraq, helped lay the foundation for an effective partnership between the Black Dragon and IA units.
The training involved vehicle and foot patrols, searching vehicles and personnel at checkpoints and small-arms qualification.
By enabling the Iraqi troops to take the lead during joint patrols, the IA soldiers were better prepared to help continue the steady decline of violence in the Maysan Province.
Iraqis who spoke with Coalition Forces during the mission were grateful for the increased presence, because they also want the negative influences removed from the area.
"In areas where there were coalition-only patrols, people would act indifferent to the patrols," said Maj. David McCulley, the 5th Bn., 82nd FA Regt. Executive Officer from Springdale, Ark. "With the Iraqi Army soldiers now leading the patrols, the population is glad to see the IA soldiers and treat them with a lot of respect."
The Black Dragons look forward to continued joint patrols with their new Iraqi partners, and hope to help reduce the amount of indirect fire at FOB Hunter.
(Report by 2nd Lt. Justin Bishop.)
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