Black Jack Brigade troops deliver food, water to residents on Haifa Street
By Sgt. Robert Yde
2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – Residents of Haifa Street have grown accustomed to violence living in one of the Iraqi capital’s most dangerous areas. The impoverished area has been the scene of several battles between coalition forces and insurgents and is infamous for the sectarian violence that occurs there on a daily basis.
Snipers routinely operate out of the many high-rise buildings that line the road causing many of the locals to live like prisoners in their own homes.
“It is very violent and we’re sick of it. We’re afraid for our families” one Iraqi said describing the situation.
Although they have been operating here for a couple of months, Soldiers from Troop C, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team have recently taken over control of this notorious street and its surrounding areas.
“The biggest thing we’d like to do is get a good, stable measure of security in conjunction with the Iraqi forces, so those people can feel safe,” explained Troop C commander, Capt. John Gilliam of his goals for the Haifa Street area. “They can go to the market, their children can go to school, and they can just live without the fear of someone knocking on their door and threatening to kill them.”
According to Gilliam the first step toward accomplishing this goal is gaining the trust of the locals in order to build a relationship so they can work to solve their problems together. With this idea in mind, two of Troop C’s first missions onto Haifa St. were to provide food, water and medical assistance to the residents there Jan. 28 and 29.
Working with the Red Crescent, an agency similar to the Red Cross, Soldiers escorted the items from a mosque in the Al Mansour district of the city Jan. 29. Immediately after arriving to the distribution point on Haifa Street, people began to flock to the much-needed supplies.
“I think it’s the first time, really, anybody’s done any humanitarian missions on Haifa Street in a long time, especially U.S. forces. Most of the focus up here has been on dealing with the violence,” Gilliam, a native of Charlottesville, Va. said. “The past few days has been one of the first real times that a lot of people who have been unable to leave their house or who have felt afraid to go out on the streets have been able to come out and get some food and water and some much needed medical supplies.”
As people carried off boxes of water and bags of rice, bread and canned vegetables they stopped to voice their concerns to the Soldiers.
“The majority of the people have been very excited and very appreciative of receiving food, but they still have security issues on Haifa Street,” Gilliam explained. “There are still people who like to do sniper attacks and small-arms attacks, but we’re doing our best right now to kill or capture those people and restore some security down here.”
Gilliam’s assessment of the area quickly proved true as the Soldiers were forced to move the distribution sight after they began receiving indirect fire about 30 minutes after setting up.
“They were walking the mortars in fairly close to us, to the point that we had to react and push a section down to try to identify the shooters,” Gilliam said. “Then we started taking some small-arms fire from the same area, so we downloaded as much food as we could at that location and then we took the rest to another location.”
Gilliam said that just about every time his Soldiers have come into the area they have received some type of contact from insurgents and it was just one more thing they had to factor in when making preparations for the humanitarian mission.
“When you bring in a bunch of stuff like that in one location, obviously, you’re going to attract a lot of people, a lot of civilians. It’s a high pay-off target for the insurgents to take out that many people,” he said. “Our guys have to be that much more vigilant when we’re doing these missions.”
After moving down a few blocks and reestablishing a new distribution point the trucks were quickly downloaded with assistance from Iraqi Army troops in the area. As people carried supplies by the arm-full back to their homes, they were obviously thankful to the Soldiers and the Red Crescent.
“We thank you and appreciate the support for the people here,” one resident said after taking several bags from one of the trucks.
According to Gilliam, this type of feedback has been common, and as he pointed out, it’s not only the people who are helped by getting food and water, but he and his Soldiers benefit from the information they gain from the residents.
“When we do big events like this, it gets a lot of people out. The locals see that we’re here to stay and we’re here to help them and they’re inclined to come and talk to us,” he explained. “That’s how we generate a lot of our success in the area. That’s how we figure out who the insurgents are in the area.”
Humanitarian missions such as this one will continue on Haifa Street, Gilliam said, and as he and his Soldiers continue to foster trust with the locals, the security situation should improve.
“I think these past few days have been a good first step toward getting a good working relationship with the sheiks and the local leaders,” he said. “They’ve seen that we’re here to help them and that our sole purpose is to provide them security and bring some stability to them. It makes you feel like your making a difference.”
A Red Crescent worker passes out bags of food during a humanitarian mission that the agency conducted in conjunction with Troop C., 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment on Haifa Street in Baghdad Jan. 29. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
Capt. John Gilliam, commander of Troop C, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, looks on as food and water is distributed by Red Crescent workers during a humanitarian mission on Baghdad’s Haifa Street Jan. 29. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
A resident of Baghdad’s Haifa Street talks to an interpreter about problems in the area while Capt. John Gilliam, commander, Troop C, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, looks on. Soldiers from Troop C were in the area conducting a humanitarian mission Jan. 29. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)
A medic attached to Troop C, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, tends to an elderly man’s arm on Baghdad’s Haifa Street during a humanitarian mission there Jan. 29. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert Yde, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)