Tankers Learn Lessons of Peacekeeping
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 5, 2003 "If someone is running away from the gas station, don't shoot," Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Lujan told his men. "Remember, this is peacekeeping. We're not in combat."
In a nutshell, that's the problem facing combat units in Iraq: the transition from war to peace.
Lujan and his patrol are members of the Company C, 4th Battalion, 64th Armor, 3rd Infantry Division. They fought all the way from the berm separating Kuwait and Iraq to Baghdad. Now, the tankers were doing a nighttime patrol to check out a hospital and a gas station once reserved for privileged members of Saddam Hussein's society.
Their battalion had engaged and defeated the Iraqi Republican Guard's armored units during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now they have different rules of engagement.
The patrol didn't have its Abrams tank. Instead, it was a dismounted patrol with a Humvee that had a roof-mounted .50-caliber machine gun for fire support.
Lujan didn't expect trouble at the hospital. "The doctors and staff here have organized to protect the hospital," he said. "We're just going to ensure any looters or criminal elements understand this place is under our eye."
The gas station was a different story. The patrol carried plastic handcuffs for looters they might encounter.
Lujan began the patrol with two men up front and he walking behind them. The Humvee followed with lights out.
It's a measure of the security in Baghdad that there was no trouble at either place. People were in the streets it was before the 11 p.m. curfew but they were peaceful. A group of young men played soccer under a street lamp. Families sat outside their houses. Lujan greeted each family group, and each replied.
Lujan has some experience with peacekeeping, having served earlier in his career in the Balkans. He understood the difference between combat and peacekeeping, and he made sure his men did.
"We've got to provide security for these people to get their lives back on track," he said. "It's like the Balkans or anyplace else: People won't go back to work if they are worried about their families' safety, and businesses won't run if they think they will be looted."
That didn't seem to be a problem in Lujan's sector, although across the 14th of July Bridge, he and his men could hear gunfire and the occasional pop of a flare. "I don't think that's ours," he said.
At the end of the patrol, he met up with the second part of his platoon. They were on an Abrams tank blocking the 14th of July Bridge. Young and old stopped by the razor-wire barricade and tried to bridge the communications gap by speaking with the soldiers. "That's one thing we need in peacekeeping: translators," he said.
Like the rest of the division, Lujan is ready to get back to Forts Stewart and Benning in Georgia. "I feel we've done a good job of switching from combat ops to peacekeeping," he said.