March 24, 2010

Virginia Guard Soldiers involved with Iraq national election

By Spc. Eddie Siguenza
49th Military Police Brigade

BAGHDAD, Iraq — This is a story about courage. It’s a tribute to the Iraqi Police, the brave citizens who stepped forward to vote March 7 during Iraq’s national election, and a slew of American Soldiers who participated in a part of Iraq history.

  229th MP Company

Civilians walk past Pfc. Michael Chappell, a Soldier from the 229th Military Police Company, who was observing a checkpoint near the Baghdad Provincial Directorate of Police headquarters. Civilians had to walk to various voting sites during the March 7 Iraq general election. A curfew restricted traffic flow to just essential vehicles. (Photo by Spc. Eddie Siguenza, 49th Military Police Brigade)

Above and beyond, this is for the Iraqi people. Millions voted despite multiple incidents to lure them away from the polls. In Baghdad alone, more than 120 incidents occurred.

The majority happened within two or three hours after voting sites opened.

“Today’s voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq,” said President Obama. “I congratulate the Iraqi people on their courage throughout this historic election. Today, in the face of violence from those who would only destroy, Iraqis took a step forward in the hard work of building up their country.”

Those American Soldiers – particularly a platoon-size force located at Baghdad’s Provincial Directorate of Police (PDOP) headquarters and Patrol Headquarters from the Virginia National Guard's 229th Military Police Company – exemplified what the U.S. military has done since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003. Amid all the bombings and other blasts, the PDOP-based Soldiers stuck to their mission of “assisting the Iraqi Police. They stood on the streets, overseeing a checkpoint manned by local authorities, assuring that proper procedures were followed.

“It’s supposed to be some kind of scare tactic, but it’s not scaring us,” Sgt. Ralph Jarrell, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 229th PDOP crew, said about the bombing. “We were prepared for it. We know our mission is important to the election. We’re not surprised (the bombings) were coming.”

The 49th Military Police Brigade sent members of its Police Transition Team to PDOP with the 229th’s assistance to serve as information and intelligence facilitators. This crew of activated Army National Guardsmen monitored how Iraqis set up their election security. They provided advice. But for the most part, they just observed and let the Iraqis run their own operation.

“Everything they’ve done is impressive,” said Brig. Gen. Donald Currier, 49th commander, during a brief stop at the PDOP operations center. “It’s so different from the last time we were here. What they’re doing today says a lot about the Iraqi Police.”

This election, says Gen. Currier, was of special interest. When the 49th deployed in 2005-06, he witnessed the December 2005 general election. The 49th was strongly involved with that process by directing IPs, said the general. But this year, the 49th was in a supporting role. The unit became the important front seat passenger, but not the driver.

It observed and provided advice. It let the Iraqis run their own operation.

“The fact that they were able to coordinate their planning and execution with other security forces demonstrated a capability that they did not have a short time ago,” Currier explained. “The Iraqi Police demonstrated their ability to plan and execute security operations for the elections in Baghdad. That entailed a comprehensive effort to plan and execute polling station security, checkpoints, curfew enforcement, effective vehicle movement restriction and a public information campaign that reassured its citizens that they were as safe as possible.”

Maj. Jeanette Stuart, 49th’s officer in charge of Iraqi Police services national transition team, led the Patrol Headquarters element. She led a team of six who served as the “conduit” for getting information to and from United States Forces-Iraq and the Iraqi Patrol Police.

“The 49th has been partnering with various IP agencies in Baghdad to provide mentoring, training, support and assistance, as required,” said the Reno, Nev. resident. “The Iraqi Police Services successfully assisted in providing security for the Government of Iraq Elections. They were able to prevent violent extremists from influencing or disrupting the Iraqi election process. The public gained confidence in the Iraqi Police’s ability to provide civil security.”

Even the 49th’s Personal Security Detail got involved. Staff Sgt. Clinton Bayoneta, PSD noncommissioned officer in charge, and more than a dozen members escorted Currier to PDOP and Patrol Headquarters. They drove more than 35 miles through Baghdad, he said. All returned unscathed and ready for another mission.

The 229th, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, added to PDOP’s internal defense. It regularly sent out foot patrols, where Soldiers walked the compound to check its perimeter.

It stationed mine resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles near the facility’s entrance.
Gunners manned them around the clock. Election day, Soldiers rotated monitoring an entry control point (ECP) occupied by Iraqi police. This ECP was about 200 yards from a voting site.

They were in constant radio contact especially during the explosions. Fortunately, none happened near PDOP. That could be attributed to the Iraqi police’s success of curbing attacks.

“The enemy’s (tactics, techniques and procedures) are forcing themselves to go further away from targets,” said 229th’s Lt. Bradley Churchill, platoon leader. “That means the Iraqi police are doing their job. If anything, the (bombings) made us focus on our responsibilities a little more.”

As Soldiers from the 229th watched local authorities search vehicles and pedestrians (a curfew restricted vehicles allowed on roads to just necessities) they also witnessed history.

They saw Iraqis walking to and from a nearby voting site. They saw democracy, something non-existent in this country eight years ago.

“God willing,” said Lt. Col. Shaker, PDOP movement officer and a key entity in the 49th’s relationship with Iraqi police. “We are hoping for the best this election. All will go well, God willing.”

The role of the 49th represented that of US forces throughout Iraq. At PDOP, the 229th Soldiers over-watched checkpoints manned by Iraqi police. The Iraqi police executed all vehicle and personnel searches. At Patrol Headquarters as well, the 229th served as a 24-hour security unit. Both elements were on stand-by if there was a need for investigative assistance.

Neither the 49th or 229th was called upon.

That’s credit to the Iraqi Police for having control of their operation.

“The take-away from this event is that the Iraqi Police have dramatically increased their professionalism, capabilities and leadership,” the general added. “They can still benefit from US partnership, but that is no longer a junior-senior partnership. It is a partnership of equals -- each with strengths that benefit one another.”

Final results will take months. Millions of Iraqi’s voted. But this day started in 2003, when the 49th and 229th’s military predecessors launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. For these two units, the day ended with a loud boom – the sound of courage.

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