Aug. 21, 2009

Virginia Guard Soldiers tackle one final mission in Iraq

By Maj. John Strahan
555th Engineer Brigade

DIYALA PROVINCE, Iraq — The mid day August sun bore down on the Soldiers as they dismounted from their armored vehicles. The warm breeze gave no relief from the 114 degree heat. 

“Remember, drink plenty of water,” said the patrol leader. “We’ll be walking seven kilometers today.” With final checks complete, Soldiers from the 266th Military Police Company moved out for another Counter Indirect Fire Patrol. This Virginia Army National Guard unit recently arrived at Joint Base Balad, Iraq and assumed a new mission designed to increase force protection.

  266th Military Police Company

While on a foot patrol, 1st Lt. John Hinton of the 266th Military Police Company speaks with farmers about suspected indirect fire launches in the local area. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. John Strahan, 555th Engineer Brigade)

Joint Base Balad has received indirect fire attacks since U.S. forces first took control of the former Iraqi air base in 2003.  In the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom this camp earned the name “Mortar-Rita-Ville.” Through the efforts of units like the 266th MP Co. attacks against the camp have been greatly reduced over time.

“Mortar and rocket attacks present a constant danger to personnel stationed here,” said 1st Lt. John Hinton. “Our patrols are designed to deny insurgents the ability to conduct attacks against the base,” said the 27 year old platoon leader.

“These patrols are also an opportunity for us to interact with the area residents,” Hinton added.  Hinton, from Newport News, Va., is a member of the 266th MP Co. He has been serving with the unit in Iraq for nearly 11 months.

The daily missions are a combination of mounted and dismounted patrols. This gives Soldiers the ability to investigate suspected launch sites and look for possible caches of mortars and rockets. Patrols encompass the small villages and farm lands that surround the base. 

  266th Military Police Company

Sgt. James Reed of the 266th Military Police Company stops to check a burn mark he discovered while on a foot patrol near Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Such burn marks in the ground are an indication of a possible rocket launch site.  (U.S. Army photo by Maj. John Strahan, 555th Engineer Brigade)

“We walk for several hours and look for signs of a recent launch,” said Sgt. James Reed, 32 years old, of Staunton, Va. Reed is a team leader in 1st. Platoon. “Burn marks on the ground, or trails leading into the brush, are the type of things we check out,” explained Reed. 

Patrol locations and times are determined on intelligence analysis and local observations. Spc. Jesse Miller, a 30 year-old team member, from Montclair, Va., understands the necessity to conduct these patrols. “We get our information, and act on it to deny the enemies’ indirect fire capability,” said Miller.

The force protection mission is the final assignment in Iraq for this National Guard unit.  Previous assignments included providing police training teams and convoy security operations. Although nearing the end of their deployment, the Soldiers of the 266th MP Co. embraced this last mission with commitment and dedication.

“We’ve been here for nearly a year, and this is a good mission to end our tour with,” said Miller.

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