Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
AZ-ZAIDON, Iraq — It was a scene that could almost have been taken from the movie “We Were Soldiers.” Troops stood in the darkness, waiting to get into helicopters to air-assault into an area of Iraq that had not seen U.S. forces in over a year, and someone mumbled something very like Lt. Col. Hal Moore’s comment in the film – “round-trip with choppers, thirty minutes – that means the first sixty men will be on the ground a half-hour alone.”
Fortunately for the Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), the similarities to the story stopped there.
The 2-14 Golden Dragons, joined by soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division surrounded the village of Ibrahim Sallal, southwest of Az-Zaidon, Iraq, in the predawn darkness of Feb. 3.
The first drop of Soldiers from Company B waited silently for the other half of the company to arrive before going to the homes in the area, waking the occupants and collecting all the military-age males in the village for questioning. They also gathered all the weapons they found in the houses.
The men were taken to the school in the center of the village, where they waited to be questioned as the Soldiers set up a defensive perimeter, communications equipment, and mortar tubes. Other Soldiers re-searched the village, being more thorough after the initial hunt where time was of the essence, turning up another man who had been sleeping, and a few more weapons.
The Iraqi soldiers searched the local mosque, where they found a few jihadist fliers.
Questioning began early and continued throughout the day. While the families had seemed a little frightened by the early intrusion, the wives and children soon came to the school, bringing socks and scarves for the men who did not have time to get them. They also brought food for the men of the village and the Soldiers alike. Some of the women brought ill children to be treated by the medics, and were given medicine.
“Everything has been very successful so far,” said Maj. Joel Smith, a native of Brisbane, Australia, and the 2-14 executive officer. “We did a rapid clearance of the houses on the objective, controlled all the military-aged males, and took contraband weapons. The mission is to get a better picture of the area; since our transfer of authority, we’ve had no presence here.”
Several of the men told the interrogators that there was terrorist activity in the area, and said that one local man had been forced to leave days before after terrorists had threatened him and his family.
Despite the early hours that awakened the villagers, the Soldiers of Co. B were unfazed and even excited about the mission.
“We’re always out at four a.m.,” said Pfc. Charles Marcille, a native of Metamora, Ill., and a rifleman with the company, as he stood outside the mosque guarding two men that had been found there. “This was my second air assault. I’m not a big flier – it’s nerve-wracking when you’re in a helicopter. But it’s exciting, too.”
1st Lt. George Webb, a native of Madison, Virginia and a platoon leader, was also enthused about the early-morning assignment.
“I couldn’t see myself, nor would I want to be, anywhere other than here, doing what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s neat seeing the reaction, especially from the children, and seeing the improvements we could make in the neighborhoods by bringing the sheikhs to a council.”
The mission included four Iraqi soldiers that work often with the company.
“We hope to catch insurgents on this mission,” said Koteba Hamid Ahmad. “We came in here to see the area, and everyone did a great job. The kids seem happy, the helicopter ride in went well, and working with the Americans is always good. We enjoy it every time.”
Bassim Muhammad Ali, who has done seven air assaults with the unit, agreed.
“I love working with the American Army. We four are always out with 2-14; this sort of mission isn’t new.”
Civil affairs Soldiers came in by convoy later that morning, distributing school supplies such as backpacks and colored pencils to dozens of eager children.
And although the 2nd BCT has not had much presence in the area until Saturday, the hope is that the time spent there will increase and bear fruit.
“I think we’re doing something productive and helping here,” said Pfc. Stephen Harris, a rifleman with Co. B and a native of the Cayman Islands. “We did a patrol to find caches and searched buildings. It will definitely help; we’re taking a proactive approach. Ever since we’ve been proactive in an area, (improvised explosive device) attacks have gone down, because we’re keeping the insurgents on the run.”
While the men were detained for questioning until after dark, all were released to their homes when the company left that night.
“The decisive part of this mission was intelligence gathering,” said Capt. Palmer Phillips, a native of Swampscott, Mass. “All our reports were six months to a year old. We found three people that we’d had reports on, and we developed them to our satisfaction, but we didn’t detain them. We have a start on developing information on Zaidon, and established ties between the Zaidon area and (the village of) Sadr Al-Yusufiyah which will be important in developing future operations. This mission was substantively useful.”