Thursday, June 23, 2005

MS Guard soldiers take many roles in Iraq

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Part of being a soldier in Iraq is adapting to changing situations. Sometimes a soldier may have to adapt at a moment’s notice.

The soldiers of 5th Platoon, Troop A, 98th Cavalry Regiment, 155th Brigade Combat Team, Mississippi Army National Guard, stationed at FOB Kalsu have done just that.

“Our overall mission in Iraq is policing and peace-keeping, but because we are with a cavalry unit we get tasked out to do a lot of counter-mortar patrols as well as convoys and escorts,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Corley, team leader, 5th Plt.

The platoon provides security for everything from supply shipments to contractors to the Army Corps of Engineers, said Corley, who is from Tupelo.

“We escort them up and down routes and conduct improvised explosive device sweeps to make sure those routes are safe for everyone else,” he added.

“Usually we get tasked out to do a specific mission, like a counter-mortar patrol or a tactical checkpoint, but when we are out we will see something else,” Corley continued.

“Even though our original mission is our objective, we will also focus on whatever comes up.”

The platoon is frequently tasked out to be a quick reaction force at other base camps and FOBs such as Lima, Taqqadum, Hotel and Duke, Corley said.

When the platoon first came over here, they never expected to have to do all of these different missions on a moment’s notice, said Sgt. Thomas Johnson, gunner, 5th Plt. The platoon was told to be flexible all throughout training, and that is just what they are doing.

“I write letters to my family and friends to deal with the stress of being out here, and they are generally impressed with what we are doing,” said Johnson, who is from Canton. “But, I don’t think they quite realize everything we have to do.”

The platoon might go out on one mission and end up doing three more, Johnson said. They could be doing a convoy mission and end up coming to the aid of a broken down vehicle. One time, while doing route reconnaissance, they discovered a major weapons cache.

“We did a route recon of the Camp Taqqadum area before we set up of some observation posts and found a huge weapons cache,” Corley said. “The total count wound up being more than 450 artillery shells, which could have made a lot of IEDs.”

“We went out to set up an OP and made a significant weapons find,” Corley said. The shells were probably left over from the former Iraqi regime, but there were signs that they were being gathered up and stashed away by insurgents so they could use them at a later date.

The platoon also performs casualty collection or back-up missions for a unit if they are caught in a firefight, Corley said.

“We did a counter-mortar patrol and it turned into a QRF mission where we went to help the Oklahoma Army National Guard,” Johnson said. “We never know what will be waiting for us around the next corner.”

Fifth platoon has recently finished an operation in conjunction with a mission where another platoon was doing a raid. “We were setting up a traffic control point to catch any insurgents who were trying to duck out the back door,” Corley said.

“In the process we started building a rapport with the locals near our TCP,” Corley said. “That was when some children told us about a piece of artillery equipment left abandoned in a nearby field.”

The artillery piece was a 152 Russian Artillery howitzer, and through talking to the locals with the help of interpreters the platoon found more howitzers, Corley said.

Expanding on the growing rapport between his platoon and the locals, the platoon spoke with the village elders to see what problems they were having and if anything could be done to help, Corley said.

One of the problems mentioned was a water shortage, Corley said. The people have to share water with other villages and only get to use it for six hours a day. After six hours the water is cut off and another farm gets to use it.

“Sometimes their six hours is during the middle of the night, but they can’t work on their farms at night for fear that they might be mistaken for insurgents setting out mortars and launching them at the FOBs,” Corley said. “They were wondering if our Army Corps of Engineers could fix their water problem.”

Johnson believes he is here to help the people of Iraq and give them the freedom that he has always had.

“Our original mission was to be a single day setting up a TCP, screening cars and searching for any munitions. With finding the artillery rounds and the howitzers, then segueing on to the humanitarian aid, it wound up being a three-day mission,” Corley said. “We are going to go back there with medical supplies to help out the sick and the needy.”

Corley said this is his second time being deployed to a country with a high level of poverty and it really makes him appreciate what he has back home.

Even though he is supposed to be a hardcore, mission-first soldier it is hard for him not to get attached to the people he has built a rapport with.

“As soldiers we have done these jobs every day for the last couple of years, so we know what our bodies can handle, and we can give out food and water knowing how much we need for ourselves,” Corley said.

“I don’t have a problem with giving anything extra to them, and I don’t know anybody who has.”

“I have been on missions with privates all the way up to colonels, and every one of them has the same mentality -- that they want to help,” Corley said. “I wouldn’t be able to go home and look my kids in the eye knowing that I treated some other child over here badly and didn’t try to help out any way I could.”

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