By Sgt. James Hunter, 2nd BCT PAO, 101st Abn. Div., MND-B
BAGHDAD – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers continue their effort of transforming Sons of Iraq, or Abna’a al-Iraq, into Iraqi Policemen to help boost the number of policemen on the force patrolling the streets of Baghdad.
Since May this year, Soldiers with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), have been working effortlessly with Sons of Iraq in Radwaniyah, just on the outskirts of Baghdad, where they are maintaining security at tactical checkpoints.
“The primary purpose of the SOIs is to provide additional security to the area. Living on the FOB, we can only get out to patrol the area so much,” said Capt. Geoffrey Gorsuch, commander, Battery B, 1st Bn., 320th FA Regt. “The SOIs occupy their checkpoints 24 hours a day, which increases security in the area. We lean on the SOIs as much as possible to complete tasks that would normally take up CF combat power.”
For example, if Iraqis are concerned for their own safety while completing a task that will better the whole community, such as cleaning a canal, Gorsuch will ask the SOIs to provide a couple of personnel to help secure the site while the locals work the canals.
It provides an Iraqi solution for an Iraqi concern of security for the populace and frees up American combat power for other tasks, said Gorsuch, a native of Peoria, Ill.
“They are doing good things out there. They are very important,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Rivas, a native of Upper Marble, Md. “It cuts down our patrol times, and they know the area.”
They are quick to notice suspicious situations or persons entering the area who really don’t belong, he said.
“These SOIs know everyone in the area, so they know when someone is here who doesn’t belong,” said Gorsuch. “They also are better than us at spotting when something doesn’t look right and needs a second look.
“The local SOIs are all from our AO, and most are from families that have lived here for a long time. Our area has always been fairly safe, but the SOIs are able to work 24 hours a day and deter the enemy from using our AO as a transit place when (Coalition Forces) are not patrolling,” Gorsuch added. “Their impact on the security of the AO was immediate and pleasantly surprising.”
Often, the Top Gun troops involve them in their daily patrols.
“Whenever possible, we will involve the SOIs with us during our operations to reduce the strain that our operations have the potential to cause on the local nationals,” said Gorsuch. “Iraqi’s are a lot happier to have other Iraqis searching through their belongings than a big American Soldier, who doesn’t speak their language and may not be totally aware of cultural customs, rules and courtesies. Bottom line, involving the SOIs in our operations is a way to get the job done and lessen the cultural impact of our Soldiers on the daily lives of the people living and working in the AO.”
Their acceptance into the community is definitely seen on the faces of the Iraqi people.
“Everyone is extremely happy with the SOIs. They have increased security in the area and also provided the young men in the area a way to make money for themselves and the family,” Gorsuch said.
“It is not a lot, but every job helps the community in some way. They are also happy that it is local men who are working the checkpoints.”
The Iraqi people take great pride in their work, and they do not want to let down the people they protect. This is their community, and they want to keep it safe.
However, no matter how easily they are accepted by the people in the area, they still need acceptance from the Government of Iraq, which up to this point, they have not.
They are playing a vital role within the communities, with hopes they will continue their mission alongside the Government of Iraq as members of the Iraqi Police force. To ensure these men can get to that point, the Top Gun troops are doing all they can to ensure so.
The “Top Gun” troops gave 21 members of the all-volunteer force a medical screening and physical fitness exam recently.
The information gathered during the screening and fitness exams were filed into each man’s packet, which will be sent higher for approval and hopefully acceptance into the Iraqi Police Academy.
“Our ultimate goal is to eventually transform the SOIs into a (Government of Iraq) ISF element,” Gorsuch said. “These packets will be turned into the Iraqi Police department so they can be vetted through the Iraq channels and eventually, hopefully around the first of the year, the SOIs can report to training and be picked up as Iraqi Police officers and return in an official GOI-paid position to police the area.”
The physical fitness test gave the SOIs an opportunity to gauge their strengths physically. If accepted, the men will be expected to pass the physical fitness test in the academy, said Rivas. The physical fitness test was comprised of a 100-meter dash, 1,500-meter run, pull ups, sit ups and push ups. Each man passed the test.
“It was a basic PT test,” said Estraca. “We had them do the minimum number to pass.”
Two Top Gun medics examined each SOI, checking for any medical condition that would deter their entrance into the academy.
“We were making sure they had a full range of motion and were physically fit to accomplish their job,” said Spc. Leonard Estraca, a native of Mathis, Texas, with Battery B, 1st Bn., 320th FA Regt. “We checked their blood pressure and their heart rate.”
Estraca didn’t find anything too serious, just minor problems as he sees daily with many Iraqi citizens in the area.
“What we see with most Iraqi civilians is dental problems and high blood pressure from smoking,” said Estraca. “Overall, they were pretty healthy guys.”
As the packets go forward and get vetted through the Iraqi channels, the Top Gun troops will continue to work with the SOIs and further enhance their abilities through training – just as they have done since May.
Prior to occupying their checkpoints, the battery conducted a week of training with them focused on basic skills, such as first aid, the safe handling and clearing of the AK-47, traffic control point operations and personnel and vehicle search techniques.
“We still conduct training with them but spend the majority of the time conducting joint TCPs and dismounted patrols with them,” said Gorsuch. “We have found that they are very eager to learn and serve their community. They are always motivated and willing to work with the patrols in the AO.”
Estraca, who has been working with the SOIs on a personal basis since May said he finds them to very hard working men who just want acceptance and the ability to provide for their families.
By Sgt. James Hunter, 2nd BCT PAO, 101st Abn. Div., MND-B