Update from Iraq: Local Gifts Help Extend Message of Peace

Oct 21, 2008

This is a communication from MSG Jeffrey Pennington, currently stationed at Patrol Base Kaufman, Samarra, Iraq:

Since I last made a post we have experienced a lull in enemy activity, at least in our area. However we have had many of the soldiers in my unit begin to take their mid-tour leave which leaves everyone else stretched thin to pick up the slack. I myself have had to do the job of 2 people for 16-18 hour days 7 days a week for quite some time. I will never place blame on anyone who has the opportunity to go home on R&R for a couple weeks as it is well-deserved for the soldiers here and I’m certain their families appreciate it very much.

me-and-ssg-vassalli-before-the-eid-al-fitr-patrol.JPGUntil you actually experience war, it’s hard to describe what the emotional and physical aspect of living with 24/7 heightened situational awareness does to a person. In a nutshell, it drains the life out of you and appears to take a few years off the end of your life. With this tour things are looking much better for the war effort…I still look in a mirror everyday and see new gray. Maybe some of it is that I’m no spring chicken anymore and I don’t bounce back with as much vigor as a 25-year old.

Other posts in the series “Update from Iraq” include:

As I mentioned, enemy activity has decreased in our area which is a relief. This allows us to make great strides in preparing the Iraqi Police Forces in the Samarra area to stand up and conduct operations on their own while the City of Samarra enjoys the benefit of increased security. This is something that has been amiss with the citizens for years as Al Qaeda and other Anti-Iraqi forces have run rampant in the past.

salah-ad-din-provincial-governate.JPGIn my last post I mentioned that the 1175th MP Company had participated in a security patrol around the Al Askari “Golden” Mosque during the observed birthday of one of the Islamic Imams. The event turned out to be most successful and Samarra enjoyed a terror-free day. In the past couple months the 1175th, side-by-side with the Samarra Police, have conducted many joint patrols in order to expand and maximize their legitimacy within many new “Safe Neighborhoods” that the Infantry Battalion in our area have created and censured.

We frequently oversee the distribution of Information Operation flyers throughout the city which detail the progress that Coalition and Iraqi Security forces have attained and direct them to have faith in their Civil infrastructure while Coalition Forces monitor and guide them on the way forward.

salah-ad-din-statue-outside-the-governors-office.JPGSome of the successes that we have attained with the Samarra Police thus far are nearly doubling of the force; standing up four new stations within the city and surrounding areas; overseeing the entire process of equipping them with new uniforms, bulletproof vests, weapons and vehicles; mentoring their leadership in streamlining their patrol zones and dispatch procedures; and conducting daily joint patrols and classes in areas such as checkpoint operations, personnel vehicles and building searches and proper site exploitation of a crime scene and investigation.

It is certainly an exciting time for me as I see major progress even from the time I first got on ground on this 2nd tour. The troop surge orchestrated by General Petraeus has indeed been a blessing for both the Troops and the Iraqi people and I can honestly attest to its success. As many of you might have heard General Petraeus recently stepped up from the Multi National Forces-Iraq Command to assume Command of the Central Command (CENTCOM) which oversees both Iraq AND Afghanistan.

During my first tour, General Petreaus, then a Major-General, was the Commander of the 101st Airborne Division (which I’m attached to currently) and was assigned to the Northern part of Iraq which had a noticeable decreased level of terrorist and insurgent activity as it was probably the most peaceful and secure areas of the entire country, at least from my perspective.

Granted, at my level in the military I do not necessarily see nor understand the complexities of the operational environment at that high of a level; however, as a soldier on the ground that travels or has soldiers travel across the country and operate where the ax meets the grindstone…Northern Iraq was the place to be in 2004. Now, for the past couple years General Petraeus has used his command influence to bring that same level of security across the entire country. I look forward to what will be success in Afghanistan as well, now that he commands both theaters.

me-and-governor-hameed-of-salah-ad-din.JPGI recently had the pleasure of visiting the Governor of the Salah Ad Din province as we discussed the issues surrounding establishing new Police stations in and around Samarra. In the past, during the Sadaam Hussein regime, there seemed to be tension between the cities of Tikrit and Samarra. Samarra is extremely old and has a very rich history but seemed to take a back seat in civil projects to Tikrit which was Saddam’s hometown. This of course only fueled resentment from the citizens of Samarra.

While this is only speculative from the city leadership it certainly appears that Samarra has not received the same level of attention that Tikrit or Balad have. I am, however, not completely convinced that Samarra problems were that of Sadaam’s preference of Tikrit. I’m certain that there are multiple factors in Samarra’s sluggish reconstruction effort stemming from everything from mismanagement and corruption to the fact that it was once one of the front lines of sectarian violence and Anti-Iraqi terrorism which left Samarra in shambles.

Ramadan is now over and we have breathed a sigh of relief as this event has nearly always brought forth increased enemy activities through the entire country of Iraq as fundamentalists increase their devotion to prayer and thusly their belief that their cause of ridding the world of the “Infidels” should take a more provocative effort.

eid-al-fitr-patrol2.JPGRamadan is the holiest month of the year in the Islamic faith and requires fasting from sunrise to sunset as one of the Five Pillars which all Muslims devote their lives to. This practice not only cleanses the body but also the soul and teaches patience. At the end of the observance is a holiday of sorts called Eid Al-Fitr. Eid is a feast and celebration in which Muslims gather with family to recognize their many blessings and offer charity to the needy.

eid-al-fitr-patrol3.JPGThe 1175th MP company assisted in the legitimacy of the Iraqi Police forces by gathering up many gifts and candy that many of you have sent to us in care packages and participated in a patrol through the city, visiting with the residents of the poorer communities to distribute the gifts in good faith to the citizens.

It was well received and your contributions certainly had a great impact in showing the Iraqis that their Police forces, the Coalition and the American public are here to help bring stability and peace to their city.

eid-al_fitr-patrol1.JPGAgain, I want to thank all of you for supporting me and my soldiers here in Iraq. You have no idea what it means to us. And even though I try, I don’t think I could ever put into words how I feel toward all of you.

I sincerely thank you.

Jeff Pennington