Capt. Brian Gilbert, from Boise, Idaho, commander of Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment (left), and Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, from Loudon, Tenn., commander of the 3-1 Cav. Regt. (center), speak with Mahmud Jabllawe, the leader of the Sons of Iraq group in Tuwaitha, a small village east of Baghdad, during a meeting at Jabllawe's house on March 21.
By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – A gathering in a small village east of Baghdad looked more like a friendly visit than a meeting on reconstruction, March 21.
Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, from Loudon, Tenn., commander of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, and Mahmud Jabllawe, leader of the Tuwaitha Sons of Iraq group, chatted like old friends.
Kolasheski inquired about Jabllawe’s upcoming doctor’s appointment, as Jabllawe offered him and Capt. Brian Gilbert, from Boise, Idaho, commander of Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, chairs and chai.
The conversation quickly moved to business after Kolasheski gave the SoI leader a small water purifier as a house-warming gift.
Removing their boots, Kolasheski and Gilbert entered Jabllawe’s house and discussed the future of the area.
Not long ago, Tuwaitha was an al-Qaida hotbed. Local residents never dreamed that U.S. Soldiers would come into their village and sip chai with their local leaders.
“This place was pretty bad when we first arrived here,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Young, from Dayton, Ohio, a section sergeant in Company D. “Al-Qaida had killed several people in the area. They were running families out of their homes. We hit so many IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that the route into this area was still considered black 30 days after we cleared it, but that was before the Sons of Iraq checkpoints.”
Establishing the SoI in the area was a huge step towards enabling residents to take their village back.
“Those checkpoints helped keep the roads secure after we cleared them and it took off from there,” Young said.
As the routes became safer, Kolasheski’s battalion conducted several early morning missions that forced most insurgents out of the area and allowed the citizens of Tuwaitha to regroup and return to normalcy.
In January, the SoI helped uncover one of the largest caches the 3rd Brigade Combat Team had seen during their current deployment. That cache is a distant memory now.
The day’s meeting focused instead on getting Tuwaitha greater representation at nahia meetings and working with the local leadership council to help Tuwaitha’s needs be presented in a unified voice.
“Do not look back,” Kolasheski said. “You need to look forward … Concentrate on the few important projects and project the united voice of the leaders here. You can use the local nahia meetings as opportunities.”
Jabllawe recognized the merit of Kolasheski’s advice.
“Projects can happen here now because of the safety,” he said. “People are saying things are getting better, but we still have much to do.”
Jabllawe engaged Kolasheski and Gilbert about getting civil projects brought to the area. The local pump station up the road is functioning, but could be improved. Water purification is still an issue.
“Projects take time,” Kolasheski said. “The projects your people are seeing being initiated throughout the qada today were proposed a year ago. Progress takes time.”
He said he would talk with the government of Iraq, but Jabllawe must continue to work with the local government to get the projects themselves.
Jabllawe admits that many of his neighbors were not in favor of reaching out to the Americans.
“We were once very scared of you … but I am glad we reached out to you,” he said. “All of our people now know that the Soldiers at your bases are good people. You will always be remembered here as brothers.”
The 1-15th Inf. Regt. is currently attached to 3-1st Cav. Regt. The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.