Vigilance in Community Provides Peace for Iraqi People
By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Aug. 7, 2008 On the wall of the operations cell for Task Force Vigilant, a painting depicts a lion head with a banner reading, “Vigilance is Excellence.”
Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Baeza, of Odessa, Texas, a patrol leader with Task Force Vigilant, interacts with Iraqi civilians during a household assessment in southern Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret, Multinational Division Center
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
However, for Task Force Vigilant, a patrolling and quick-reaction team for Multinational Division Center, vigilance also stands for peace.
“If we weren’t doing patrols, it wouldn’t be as calm as it is,” said Army Pvt. Adam Burrell, a team driver from Hart, Mich.
TF Vigilant patrols neighborhoods near the Baghdad International Airport to ensure the security of the local community. They do this through housing assessments and night patrols aimed at keeping streets clear during curfew hours outside of the Victory Base Complex perimeters. This prevents criminals from gathering or acting out plans at night.
“In the end, we are making a difference because we’re establishing control,” said Pvt. William Tulloch, a team patrolman and driver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The majority of the people in the community work for the airport. The villages provide the people with housing near work at affordable living rates.
In order to continually improve living conditions, TF Vigilant soldiers introduce themselves to households and ask household members to fill out a survey. If there are ever issues needing resolved, such as improving sewage or electricity, the team coordinates with higher headquarters or their civil affairs counterpart.
“It pretty much shows us the other side of the war as far as us helping (Iraqis),” said Pvt. Julian Tapia, an infantryman from Woodville, Calif.
During their housing assessments, TF Vigilant soldiers meet with the local assistant mayor and interview homeowners to evaluate living conditions. The assistant mayor will often invite the soldiers into his house to share chai tea and conversations about his family and the community.
The patrol team also gathers the people’s opinions on the work of Iraqi police, the government’s involvement, their job satisfaction and coalition presence.
“Most of the time, the people like us being there. They like the security,” Tapia said.
This interaction also gives the TF Vigilant soldiers an opportunity to learn of any suspicious people or activity in the community.
The unit is made up of a mix of soldiers, from infantrymen to former military policemen.
“I feel as an infantryman, we can do just about anything,” said Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Baeza, a patrol leader from Odessa, Texas.
For Baeza, “anything” includes building a relationship with the people of Iraq.
“For me, my personal benefit is I get to interact with the people,” said Baeza, who meets regularly with neighborhood leaders and residents.
He said he sees this deployment – his third – as a change of pace. His first duty in Iraq took place during the original invasion, and he deployed again in 2004. These were times when he found himself constantly fighting or on alert for roadside bombs.
Since then, he’s seen the communities calm down and the standards of living improve greatly -- both for soldiers and for the people of Iraq.
In the past, the Vigilant teams also have been involved with some clearing of buildings to ensure no squatters are living out of abandoned hotels or other structures. When they do find people living there, they will sometimes coordinate to find them jobs, either on Camp Victory or at the airport.
When the Vigilant soldiers aren’t on patrol, they serve as a quick reaction force. The QRF element reacts to any indirect-fire attacks and provides support to patrolling units in case of emergency.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)