There is so much good news pouring out of Iraq, that I have no idea where to start. I considered taking snippets from several stories and making one post with a short piece from each. However, once I began reading each one, I could not take anything away to shorten them. So today I am going to post several Good News Stories. I hope you get a chance to read each one!
Oh… and good news on the Home Front. I went an entire week and did not run into any walls, fall down, the stairs, or impale myself! (well I did drop a knife on my bare foot…. but, it only left a little bruise) I didn’t trip over the dogs, slam my foot in the door, or hammer my thumb. So, all in all it was a VERY GOOD WEEK!
1st Cavalry News
Soldiers help Adhamiyah residents set their neighborhood on the road to recovery
By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – “How’s business?” is the question on the tip of Capt. Albert Marckwardt’s tongue as he strolls through the main market of the Iraqi capital’s Adhamiyah District.
The answer, though, is evident all around him. Business in Adhamiyah is booming. The formerly run-down market is bustling. Merchandise spills out of the kiosks and stands, and the street is clogged with shoppers. For Marckwardt, who commands a Troop of Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment responsible for security in the area, it’s an encouraging scene.
“It’s like in the U.S. when we started to come out of the depression and everyone’s spirits were lifted. We’re starting to hit that kind of recovery period here,” the Columbia, Md., native said. “It’s a night and day difference from when we got here.”
Sgt. Bryan Lundquist, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team sergeant who has been based in Adhamiyah since February, compared Adhamiyah at its lowest point to the brutal, civil war-era New York City portrayed in the movie “Gangs of New York.”
“There was no real authority. It was just the law of the jungle,” Lundquist said.
Today, while major stumbling blocks remain, recent improvements in the political and economic situation have given U.S. Soldiers like Marckwardt reason to be hopeful about Adhamiyah’s future. The new sense of optimism can be traced back to two major events. The first was the arrival in July of about 500 Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, out of Fort Stewart, Ga., as part of the “surge” of U.S. forces into Baghdad. The 3-7’s arrival instantly quadrupled the number of Soldiers operating in Adhamiyah.
The additional combat power has enabled Soldiers to maintain a constant presence on the streets, capitalize quickly on information, and mount precision strikes against key leaders of the insurgency, Marckwardt said. In effect, they can now treat the disease, instead of the symptoms.
“The enemy can’t be comfortable like they have been. They can’t sleep in the same bed every night. They’re on the run,” he said.
The other major event was an uprising by Adhamiyah residents against terrorists. On Aug. 5, a group of citizens, fed-up with terrorist activity in their community, stormed the Abu Hanifa Mosque – a well known terrorist sanctuary -and expelled the insurgents, beginning a chain of events that led coalition forces to detain more than 50 suspected terrorists and seize five large weapons caches over the next two days.
“To me, it feels like the community is starting to stand up for itself. They’re fed up,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Grimm, of Cabot, Ark., a squad leader with Troop B.
Marckwardt said all the progress that U.S. forces have been able to achieve in Adhamiyah over the past few months has been due to the new-found resolve of the people.
“Our success here would not be possible if the community didn’t want it,” Marckwardt said.
The Domino Effect
The idea that Adhamiyah is in a resurgent period is not just wishful thinking. There are a number of concrete indicators of progress. In the past month, entrepreneurs opened a new fuel station, providing residents a steady supply of affordable gasoline; Several banks which had been closed re-opened; and a factory making uniforms and other clothes opened and is employing 50 workers, said Kissimmee, Fla., native, Maj. Ike Sallee, the 3-7’s operations officer
“The gas station on its own may not mean much, but then you have the bank that just opened, and then you have the factory, and all these other things, and that momentum starts rolling. It’s the domino effect,” Sallee said.
On the security side, the numbers also show dramatic improvement. Total attacks – which include small arms, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices – are down by 70 percent since July 20, said squadron intelligence analyst Sgt. Timothy Luna, of North Olmstead, Ohio. Soldiers from the 3-7 have captured 34 suspected terrorists in addition to the 50 detained after the Abu Hanifa raids.
More importantly, the people of Adhamiyah have joined in the effort. More than 700 residents have applied to join the Critical Infrastructure Guard Force, a security force of local people with the support of the 3-7 protect schools, hospitals, Mosques, and government buildings. More than 60 have completed the guard force training and will soon receive assignments.
The unit has also been trying to build on the sense of communal pride by renovating some of the more blighted areas of the city. The unit has funded projects to remove trash and sewage from the streets, beautify a public square, renovate schools, and more. Such projects “rejuvenate” cities, Marckwardt said.
“You look at cities in the U.S. that are run down, the smallest things can be tipping points in turning them around,” he said. “It’s about bringing pride back into the city.”
Despite all these successes, Marckwardt said, the insurgents aren’t beaten yet.
“We’ve got to stay vigilant. If I was the enemy, I’d be thinking, ‘How would I react? What would I do to counter this?’” he said.
The dangers that still lurk in the area were clear during a patrol with Troop A to distribute humanitarian aid rations in a poor part of the city Aug. 22. As the Soldiers were distributing bags of rice and flour, a huge explosion erupted somewhere close by, shaking the ground. Moments later, the report came in over the radio: IED.
“Mount up,” said platoon leader 1st Lt. John Gassmann.
The Soldiers raced off in their humvees, leaving a few lonely bags of rice lying in the street. A few blocks away, another platoon had come within 100 feet of a deadly “deep buried” IED. The bomb had exploded prematurely, leaving a phone booth-sized crater in the road. Gassmann’s Soldiers reacted quickly to set up an outer security cordon around the area and began questioning people. The smiles and laughter that had been evident as the Soldiers handed out food bags were gone, replaced by cool professionalism. Gassmann said being able to adapt to changing circumstances was the key to success in Adhamiyah.
“We have to always be ready to switch gears,” he said.
The end goal of all the 3-7’s efforts in Adhamiyah is to bring progress up to a level where it can’t be undone. Marckwardt calls this point of no return “irreversible momentum,” and said it depends on Iraqis taking the lead.
“If we do it all for them, the problems will come right back as soon as we leave,” said Roanoke, Va.-native Staff Sgt. William Schilling, of Troop B.
Adhamiyah has gone through a boom-and-bust cycle before, said Cabot, Ark.-native Staff Sgt. Christopher Grimm. Grimm, who was based in the area two years ago and saw months of progress vanish when his unit turned over security to an Iraqi Army unit that wasn’t ready for the responsibility. He said he worries about the cycle recurring.
“My biggest fear is history repeating itself,” Grimm said.
Leaders from the 3-7 are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen. One way is by working with the Iraqi Army to improve their tactical skills and professionalism. The squadron conducts joint patrols with the Iraqi soldiers daily and has begun using embedded Iraqi platoons in some U.S. units. When the Soldiers conduct humanitarian missions for Adhamiyah residents, they make sure the Iraqi soldiers are involved.
The other way is through the Critical Infrastructure Guard Force. In a process not unlike the reconciliation effort that turned around Anbar province, the 3-7 has capitalized on a groundswell of resentment against terrorists by essentially deputizing community members to fight back.
“We’ve been telling them to stand up, and they’ve done just that,” Marckwardt said.
For the new members of the CIGF, it was an opportunity to take a stand.
“All of the people of Adhamiyah want to join. The terrorists are trying to kill us, kill our families. We want to fight back,” said Ahmed Raja Al Assan, one of the first guards to graduate from the CIGF training course. “We have to work together with the U.S. and the IA to bring safety to Adhamiyah.”
For Marckwardt, it is that attitude that has him feeling more hopeful than anything else for Adhamiyah’s future. Back at the market, he stopped to talk to the owners of a small appliance store. They thanked him for the improvements in security that had turned the market around.
“No, no, thank you,” Marckwardt replied. “It’s you guys that are doing all this.”
Columbia, Md., native, Capt. Albert Marckwardt, commander of Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, talks with a shop owner in the main market of Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood during an engagement patrol Aug. 22. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs)
Cincinnatti native, Sgt. Daniel Hood, a medic with Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, patrols through the main market of Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood Aug. 22. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs)
Eastman, Ga., native, Staff Sgt. Edrese Johnson of Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, hands out some candy to a little girl while on patrol in a section of Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighborhood Aug. 22. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor, 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn. Div. Public Affairs)