Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bringing Back Salman Pak

Maj. John Wolfe, from Scottsboro, Ala., a 489th Civil Affairs team leader, walks with a council leader, a leader of the Sons of Iraq and a maintenance and support representative during a tour of a hospital in Salman Pak, Feb. 4.
Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, speaks with Sheik Ali, leader of the Sons of Iraq of Salman Pak, at the home of Sheik Fathel, a Salman Pak council member, after the opening of the new government center in Salman Pak, Iraq, Feb. 20.

First Lt. Josh Jones, a platoon leader in Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, talks to a sheik from Kesra village of southern Khanassa, during an operation, Feb. 24. (Photo/Sgt. Timothy Kingston)

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

COMBAT OUTPOST CAHILL, Iraq – A 30-day surge to bring improved security, governance and economics to Salman Pak concluded, March 15.

The 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, focused its collective efforts on the completion of many projects and missions during Operation Marne Grand Slam, a 3rd Infantry Division initiative to improve and restore the Salman Pak nahia.

While continuing to conduct full-spectrum operations in and around Salman Pak, the 1-15 Inf. Regt. moved its headquarters to the south, closer to the city. Simultaneously, the 13th Georgian Light Infantry Battalion established their headquarters at COP Cleary, and began operations in al Wehida.

Leaders of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 1-15 Inf. Regt. made the decision to push units further south of Salman Pak into villages such as al Dura’iya and al Lej. It had been two years since these villages saw coalition forces.

As part of the push, COP Carver was constructed near al Dura’iya. Company B, 1-15th Inf. Regt. moved from COP Cahill and is currently working in al Dura’iya.

“We had to locate the leaders and convince them we are here to help them live a normal life, not to change them,” said Capt. Rich Thompson, from West Palm Beach, Fla., Company B commander.

Thompson assessed and prioritized the community’s needs and wants with feedback provided by the leaders. Numerous projects were identified.

“We provided them with humanitarian aid,” Thompson said. “We built a bridge linking the east and the west sides of the Tigris River, and we opened the road at Checkpoint 600 so people can travel from the south into Salman Pak. We satisfied their three biggest needs in 30 days.”

Freedom of movement in and out of Salman Pak and throughout the city was a top priority for citizens, according to Capt. William Clark, from Prairie Du Chein, Ill., commander of Company A, 1-15 Inf. Regt.

“We conducted Operation Clean Sweep, Feb. 19, to remove the road blocks and hasty checkpoints to allow citizens freedom of movement,” he said. “People have been asking us to get rid of them since we got here (March 2007).

“Salman Pak has been such a hot AO (area of operation) for almost the entire deployment,” Clark said. “The Sons of Iraq played an instrumental role working with us and the Iraqi security forces to rid the area of al-Qaida and forcing out improvised explosive devices. They are also helping to hold and maintain security in areas we have already cleared.”

In addition to the added security benefits, the stagnant economy has been boosted by the members spending their wages at local businesses, circulating money through the economy.

As part of the operation, Company A Soldiers conducted missions to assist in establishing checkpoints for the SoI.

With the battalion, the SoI and the 1st Brigade, 1st National Police Division, improving and facilitating security, battalion leaders were able to complete many planned projects throughout the nahia.

“Everything fell into place at exactly the right time,” said Maj. John Cushing, from Rochester, Mich., the operations officer for the battalion. “With the improved security, people are moving back into the city; kids are out on the streets. Instead of focusing on security, we were able to focus on governance and economics.”

The unit achieved a major goal in the operation, Feb. 20, with the opening of a government center in Salman Pak. The opening and the improved security paved the way for government officials to return to city.

“Salman Pak used to be the seat of the qada government,” Clark said. “This is what we’ve been working for. To get it back to the way it was.”

Cushing said the projects became a concerted effort between coalition forces and the council members. Battalion leaders could now focus their efforts on assisting the council in planning the projects and assisting the council with the appropriate steps to complete them.

“One of the biggest success stories is the return of the Mada’in Qada mayor to Salman Pak,” Cushing said. “We are working extremely close with them now to establish different ministries within the council and organize them to be more effective in getting things done.

“Because of our experiences with other projects, we knew our limits on what could get done and how different projects could benefit the community,” Cushing said.

The battalion set in motion new projects focusing on improving the economy.

Local contractors were hired to perform the manual labor of the clean up and refurbishment projects, said Cushing.

The unit made the completion of the government center a priority during the operation. The government center, surrounded by the Salman Pak Joint Security Center, is near a fire house and a strip of shops, both refurbished during the operation.

A short distance away is the newly-opened courthouse and the Salman Pak hospital which recently opened to patients. A ground-breaking ceremony was held, March 13, signifying the beginning of the remaining restoration efforts for the hospital.

Despite the increases in security and governance, as well as the economic gains of the city, said Cushing, many still have the misperception that the city is dangerous. He stressed the importance of getting the word out to other Iraqis that Salman Pak is a safe place to work and live.

The 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

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