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Gunners Pull Counterinsurgency Missions in Baghdad

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2005 – Duty in densely populated Baghdad doesn't call for the need for firing a lot of 155 mm shells.

In fact, Army Maj. Gen. William Webster, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Task Force Baghdad, said the division has not fired an artillery round or dropped ordnance in Baghdad during its deployment.

Though the soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery, were not trained for counterinsurgency operations, a year in Iraq has made them experts.

So the school-trained artillerymen have transformed into a counterinsurgency unit. This does not mean the guns are not available -- the self-propelled artillery pieces can get rounds downrange in minutes if needed.

The unit traded in its Paladin artillery for Humvee vehicles, and fire missions for on-the-ground counterinsurgency operations, said Army Capt. David Underwood, commander of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery. He said the unit did receive some training in their new mission before moving in to Iraq, but the real learning experience happened on the streets around this forward operating base in East Baghdad.

"It's normal infantry patrols with civil affairs overtones," he explained. Keys to success, he said, are preparation and communications.

Before a mission begins, noncommissioned officers check every man's gear. All weapons must be working, every man must carry a full load of ammunition, the night-vision goggles must be working -- even if the mission is set for daylight -- and the vehicles must be topped off with fuel and working. All soldiers are briefed on the threats they might face and countermeasures they can take.

The men and vehicles gather, and the commander briefs all soldiers on what to expect. The men load up and make final communication checks, and then it's out of the forward operating base and into the communities.

The mission day's was to check on progress at election sites. The group of seven vehicles used a different route from the one they had used before to reach the site. They did not stop, nor allow themselves to be crowded. Iraqi drivers saw the American vehicles and gave them wide berth.

On the ground, relationships are everything, Underwood said. He and his men have worked closely with Iraqi police and public order battalions throughout their stay.

Army Sgt. Ernesto Camacho said he has seen the Iraqi security forces improve tremendously since he arrived. Camacho, who taught himself rudimentary Arabic while here, said the police and soldiers he has worked with have grown increasingly professional.

"When we first started working with them, they couldn't do anything without us," he said. "Now, they take the lead and do what needs to be done."

The soldiers know what to look for as they patrol. Iraqi children mob the soldiers at every stop. "If kids don't show up, then something is wrong," said Sgt. Thomas Brown. "We now have been doing this long enough to know when something is out of place, and react."

Roadside and car bombs are the big threat in the area, although small-arms fire can be a danger. "We watch for it all, and we maintain communications with our base, with each other, and we stay near our vehicles," Underwood said. "Then we go back in, pull maintenance on the vehicles and equipment and get ready to go back out.

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