1st Lt. Benjamin Hooker, from Shelby, Mich., platoon leader of 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, (right) and Sgt. 1st Class Donal Mathena, from Phenix City, Ala., platoon sergeant of third platoon, brief their Soldiers before a mission at Combat Outpost Cashe, Iraq, Feb. 9.
As the Soldiers in his platoon provide security, Spc. David Bougourd, from Newnan, Ga., an infantryman in 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, pries open a door to a warehouse in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, Feb. 9.
Soldiers in 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, search through high grass for weapons caches during a search operation in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, Feb. 9.
Soldiers in 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, move debris as they look for weapons caches during a search operation in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, Feb. 9.
By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Some units might have been discouraged by the way the mission went.
For four hours, Soldiers in 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment patrolled up and down the streets of Jisr Diyala. They moved slowly, making sure their Mine Resistant Armor Protected vehicle didn’t pull down one of the hundreds of low-hanging telephone and power lines that stretched across each street like black vines. After searching several homes and abandoned warehouses, the weapon cache they were looking for never materialized. For many in the platoon, it was just another day on the job.
“It’s kind of like going fishing; sometimes you catch something and sometimes you don’t,” said Pfc. Darrell Deshotel, from Oakdale, La., an infantryman in 3rd Platoon. “We’ll get it next time.”
The platoon has conducted hundreds of combat patrols in Jisr Diyala since Company D assumed responsibility of its battle space in March.
“Jisr Diyala is a very fragile area because we can’t be over-aggressive there, but we can’t be too slow, either,” said Sgt. 1st Class Donal Mathena, from Phenix City, Ala., platoon sergeant of 3rd Platoon. “We are very cautious there. Since the ceasefire, the people there seem to be waiting. It’s hard to tell what they are thinking. They could be waiting for the ceasefire to be lifted or they could be waiting for us to clean up their streets. It’s hard to tell which, to be honest.”
Despite the uncertainty in Jisr Diyala, 3rd Platoon continues to conduct aggressive offensive operations when necessary.
“We’ve grabbed every HVI (high value individual) and insurgent leader that has tried to operate there and haven’t lost one guy doing it,” Mathena said. “The platoon has done a good job. Instead of picking a target house, going in and ripping it apart, we have done a lot of knock and search operations. Our Soldiers have been very respectful and I think the locals respond favorably to that. We don’t allow cowboy actions in this platoon. Our guys aren’t reckless. They stay professional at all times.”
For many of the younger Soldiers, their current mission isn’t what they expected. They had heard stories from more experienced Soldiers in 1-15 Inf. Regt. about gun battles and air assault missions. Mathena stresses to them that their current mission, while not as exciting, is just as important.
“This is my third deployment,” he said. “I’ve been involved in countless engagements and in past deployments saw little come from them. You talk to anyone of my guys that have been over here more than once and they will tell you that this is the best operation they have been involved in. The Iraqi people are standing up for themselves. In the past, that wasn’t always the case. I can finally see a way out, the way things are going. Things are looking up. I can say this is the most rewarding deployment I’ve done. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, not in terms of medals or awards, but in terms of accomplishing our mission and making things over here better.”
To his younger Soldiers, or “first-timers” as he likes to call them, Mathena motivates and assures them that their service is just as important without firefights.
“What we trained them to do was based on what we were doing last deployment,” he said. “It’s different this time, but they have to realize that everything they do is a ‘Soldier’s job’. There is no such thing as a tanker’s job or a scout’s job anymore. What you are trained for isn’t necessarily what you will be doing.”
1st Lt. Benjamin Hooker, from Shelby, Mich., platoon leader of 3rd Platoon, is proud of the way his senior non-commissioned officers have handled the platoon.
“They have got our Soldiers operating within our commander’s intent,” he said. “They have been operating flawlessly in a sometimes fragile environment. I feel they are all very professional Soldiers that deserve a lot of credit. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Hooker said the senior NCOs have been very effective in leading troops out in the field.
“The veterans have tactical patience,” he said. “They have waited for things to develop where a lot of the younger Soldiers would have rushed in.”
Being patient and thorough has helped the platoon find three important caches, including one in Jisr Diyala.
“Every time we have rolled out and snatched up an HVI or a cache, it felt good,” Deshotel said. “We make a difference out here every day. Our company set up the first Sons of Iraq program in 3rd Brigade’s AO (area of operations). We have gotten every HVI that has tried to operate here.”
These accomplishments are important to Mathena, but he is most proud of the things in his battle space that don’t make headlines.
He points out that improvised explosive device attacks are down. He explains that bullets haven’t been needed by his Soldiers to accomplish their missions. He believes his Soldiers have made a positive impact on everyone they encounter.
“How are we gauging success in Iraq?” he said. “Do you gauge it by how much violence and action you are seeing in your AO or do you measure it by how peaceful your area is? Do you measure it by how many shots are fired or how many projects you set up? I’m proud of everything my guys have done here because at the end of the day, they did their job and helped the people here.”