Story by Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - More than 200 concerned local citizens impressed ground troops by standing their ground in a firefight and finding several improvised explosive devices.
The Al Ja'ara concerned local citizens patrolled approximately eight kilometers during a 40-hour mission that included the Iraqi national police and Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, Oct. 27.
During the mission, the citizens received small arms fire from insurgent forces, pointed out several improvised explosive devices and scouted out sites along the route to place future checkpoints.
"The mission was successful on multiple levels," said Capt. Steve Hemmann, from Des Peres, Mo., the executive officer of Company B. "To have over 200 citizens show up on time and in the proper uniform was a great start and made a great statement. We have been building up the concerned citizens here in Al Ja'ara, and they all want to secure their neighborhoods."
Near the Tigris River, the patrol took small arms fire, but was able to seek cover and return fire.
Pvt. Phillip Crumm, from Ft. Pierce, Fla., an infantryman in 3rd platoon, Company B, was impressed with the CLC's reaction to taking gunfire.
"The concerned citizens did a real good job," Crumm said. "They returned fire and held their ground. The important thing is that they were out there. They weren't back at their houses drinking chai. They were out here protecting (the local community), instead of just letting us do it."
First Sgt. Arvento Collins, from Wilson, N.C., the first sergeant for Company B, believes the incident held value for his Soldiers, confirming they were not alone in the fight.
"When you've been in a gun fight and fought alongside someone, it helps solidify the relationship even more," Collins said. "We saw that they were serious about protecting themselves and their communities."
Over the course of the mission, which spanned the area from Al Ja'ara to the Tigris River, the CLCs pointed out where several IEDs had been planted. The 789th Ordnance Company, Fort Benning, Ga., currently attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, was on hand to disarm the devices.
"The citizens here know their neighborhoods much better than we do," Collins said. "They were able to safely direct us to the IEDs and allow EOD to do their work. The information they gave us was very beneficial."
Along the route, the CLCs pointed out locations where they would like to build checkpoints.
"This was totally driven by them," Hemmann said. "They know the best places for the locations. The national police listened and added suggestions, but the concerned citizens showed us where they thought the best locations were."
Collins said the CLCs displayed great potential as a group.
"It will take some time for them to get fully established, but we saw a lot of motivation and courage out there," Collins said. "The concerned citizens will help thicken our lines out here. We can't be everywhere."
The national police can't be everywhere. If we can get ordinary citizens to be our eyes and ears out here and allow them to do simple security tasks, it frees us and the national police up to do more complex security operations."
The patrol cleared 20 houses and found a sniper rifle, a global positioning device and IED-making materials.
"That was a good find for us," Hemmann said. "Anytime you can take weapons out of the enemies' hands, it's a good find."
Hemmann was pleased with the way his troops interacted with the CLCs and the Iraqi NP.
"Before the mission, we didn't get a chance to do a rehearsal with them, but we worked really well together," Hemmann said. "We worked hand in hand clearing all the buildings and we did it without tearing anyone's house up. We were very careful and respectful. Having them there was a big help because the people we came across were much more at ease having people they knew with us."
Crumm believes that the CLCs will be beneficial for everyone in the area.
"It helps that the Iraqis are maintaining the progress we make out here," Crumm said. "They need more training, but they are out there helping. The sooner they are ready to stand up and control their area the sooner we all get to go home to our families, so I'm all for it."
The 1-15th Inf. Regt. is part of the 3rd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div., out of Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March.