Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunrise Missions Lead to Improvements in Al Bawi

Maj. John Wolfe, from Scottsboro, Ala., a team leader in Company A, 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, questions residents from al Bawi, Iraq, Feb. 6, about the security of a local pump station.

First Sgt. Troy Moore, from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, assesses a bunker at a Sons of Iraq members' checkpoint Feb. 6 in al Bawi, Iraq.

Capt. William Clark, from Prairie Du Chien, Wis., commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, talks to Sons of Iraq members about their checkpoints, Feb. 6, in al Bawi, Iraq.

Pvt. Ryan Testoni, from Warwick, R.I., Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, provides security, Feb. 6, in al Bawi, Iraq.

Story by Sgt. Natalie Rostek
Posted on 02.10.2008 at 02:32PM

COMBAT OUTPOST CAHILL, Iraq – Soldiers and leaders of Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, visited Sons of Iraq members at checkpoints, Feb. 6, in al Bawi village.

According to Capt. William Clark, from Prairie Du Chien, Wis., commander of Company A, Soldiers had executed similar missions in the past and come under attack by small arms and improvised explosive devices. The past three visits to SoI checkpoints in al Bawi were peaceful, he said.

Company A arrived in the al Bawi area, northwest of Salman Pak, April, 2007. During the first six weeks at COP Cahill Clark said unit Soldiers were patrolling the streets seven days a week.

The Soldiers encountered their first IED strike during May 2007 and since then, IED strikes and indirect and small arms fire attacks were common.

Clark noticed a significant change in the security of the area starting in early November. He attributes this turnaround to 563 members of the SoI patrolling the area and manning checkpoints in al Bawi.

He said his main point of contact, Sheik Ali, leader of the SoI in the area, lives in al Bawi.

“He went from informing us of AQI leaders and IED emplacers to becoming the public figure for Salman Pak and the Mada’in Qada,” Clark said. “His personal land encompasses a decent part of Al Bawi so most of the Sons of Iraq are his relatives and people from his tribe.”

According to Company A, 1st Sgt. Troy Moore, from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the SoI had a choice; they could either side with AQI or they could help coalition forces accomplish their mission of improving security.

“Al-Qaida was using fear and intimidation to get their way,” Moore said. “These people are sick of that and are standing up for themselves. The Sons of Iraq program is a way for them to make money to support their families.”

Clark explained the SoI program caught on in Salman Pak after succeeding in other areas around the Mada’in Qada.

“I believe the program started in (Tuwaitha) and has had a lot of success,” Clark said. “This gave people faith and hope in that it wasn’t just a limited program in one area but that it was all through Iraq.”

Clark, Moore, and other Company A Soldiers and leaders visited checkpoints along the route in al Bawi to inspect and assess the progress of the SoI manning the checkpoints.

“From what we saw, the checkpoints were fully manned and they had done a great job with the sandbags,” Clark said.

Clark meets with the SoI in al Bawi often, he said. The group has found over 40 IEDs and approximately 10 to 15 caches since last November.

Moore said meetings like this make it safer for coalition forces to be on the streets. He also believes the personal relationships with the SoI builds confidence in group members.

“We have to show that we trust them,” Troy said. “If we don’t, they will ask ‘well why are we even doing this if you don’t trust us?’.”

Clark is proud of his Soldiers and the progress they have made in al Bawi.

“In the last three months we have seen a significant improvement in Salman Pak,” Clark said. “It has been 14 days since the last fire fight. Since the sunrise missions, things have been relatively quiet. The JSS was receiving small arms fire attacks every day since we got here and there has not been one since Zelig Sunrise (early February). We have found one IED since December. We were finding them every other day.”

Company A, 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

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