Thursday, March 11, 2010

Basketball and Ballots: Soldiers Reflect on National Elections During Downtime

Pfc. Matthew Mischler, Scout Platoon medic, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, keeps the ball away from Staff Sgt. Jordan Cox, also Scout Platoon, during a pick-up game, March 6, 2010, at Contingency Operating Station Echo, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Natalie Hedrick, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div.)

By Staff Sgt. Natalie Hedrick
3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

CONTINGENCY OPERATING STATION ECHO, Iraq – Soldiers do many things to prepare for missions, but as important to the success of the mission as all the planning, the moments spent not thinking about the mission can be just as essential. Leading up to the March 7, 2010, national elections in Iraq, some 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers took some time to relax and reflect.

Trading their combat boots for sneakers, Soldiers of the Scout Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd HBCT, gathered March 6 at Contingency Operating Station Echo to let off steam on the basketball court.

They weren't thinking about the mission at that point. They weren't thinking about the elections that were going to happen just on the other side of the barriers that separate COS Echo from Iraq and all its culture.

"It's good to be in shape," said Spc. Andrew Cook, a scout in the unit. "It's good cardio and it's fun to run around and get crazy."

"It helps keep our morale up," added Spc. Robert Flanagan, also in the platoon. "It keeps our mind off of being here. We are doing something a little different than our mission."

The mission, which expands beyond their platoon to the entire 3rd HBCT, is to advise and assist the Iraqi security forces who protect and serve the people of Iraq. The brigade is responsible for assisting in five provinces across southern Iraq. The scout platoon operates in the province of Diwaniyah.

In the last few months, the ISF has held center court.

"We try to stay out of their way," Cook said.

"We just let them handle their business," Flanagan added. "We pretty much just keep a lookout and help them if they need help."

"We can tell we are part of something important even though we don't really see it," said Pfc. Matthew Mischler, the platoon medic.

The next day, Soldiers across Iraq would be supporting the ISF in keeping the national elections safe for voters. These would be the first elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in which the Iraqi government and ISF were completely in the lead.

"It's gonna be cool when my kids are in school and they come home and say they are learning about Iraq," said Pfc. Julian Smith, another scout in the platoon. "I could tell them that I was a part of that. I will have stories to tell."

The scouts took a moment to put themselves in the shoes of the local citizens. In their own words, they talked of pride, hope and freedom.

"I would be happy that these elections are taking place," Flanagan said. "That means we are pulling away from U.S. forces and running our own show."

"I would be proud," Cook said. "It would mean the U.S. would be on their way out of the country. The Iraqi people have been through a lot and for them to be able to vote for who they want to run their country is great."

"I would have a sense of national pride," Mischner said.

After a pause, the scouts continued to reflect on the elections.

"Hopefully they will choose the right people to make the right decisions for this country," Flanagan said.

He added that, if he were part of the ISF, he would be confident in his unit but would also question whether things might start to revert back to the way they were once U.S. forces left the country.

Although they could speculate what it would be like to be citizens of Iraq, they aren't. They are U.S. Soldiers, part of the 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt. They remain focused on their mission.

"There is so much going on and all of the units play such a crucial part," Mischler said. "We have been really lucky we haven't seen anything serious. The combat medic badge is good and all, but if I never get it, I'll be happy."

So, until their next mission, the scout platoon will play basketball, getting away from the stresses of the deployment but never forgetting why they're in Iraq.

And while they're in Iraq, the Soldiers remember that loved ones are the key players in their lives .

"Laura, I love you," Cook added for his wife back home. "I miss you."

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