1st Brigade ready to patrol in Baghdad
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The last troops from 1st Armored Division’s 1st Brigade rolled into the Iraqi capital Tuesday night.
The Old Ironsides Division is preparing for stability operations rather than fighting. The transition into its peacekeeping role could take several days.
Troops from the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, known as the Bandits, were the last of the division’s 1st Brigade to convoy north from Kuwait. Last week, the division’s 2nd and 3rd Brigades arrived in Baghdad and have begun to take up patrols from the 3rd Infantry Division.
“The Bandits will be conducting a relief in place with elements of the division artillery in the northern part of Baghdad, so they can return home and we can continue to restore order and stability to the city,” said 2nd Lt. Sam Haines, a battalion spokesman.
The Friedberg, Germany-based battalion staged its tanks at Saddam Hussein’s ceremonial parade ground in the city’s West End. Where the former Iraqi leader once reviewed his military, passing under a large arch made of crossed swords, American troops were shaving and brushing their teeth after 20-hour convoys.
While waiting for orders to take up positions east of the Tigris River, the 1st Brigade soldiers explored abandon buildings. Although troops have been warned against taking war trophies, the soldiers were on the hunt for souvenirs.
Some troops found the Museum of Presents to the President, which was a collection of gifts people gave to Saddam Hussein. Several rooms were full of torn paintings, teapots and trinkets.
But the museum had been looted by Iraqis, and picked over by troops from every unit that passed by. What was left was mostly junk. Still, soldiers sifted through piles of debris strewn across the floor, searching for a keepsake.
“I got this in a market,” one private said, holding up a handcrafted souvenir. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
In the dark rooms, they plowed through feet of junk. A music box playing Beethoven’s “Für Elise” added to the surreal scrounging scene.
“It’s not really looting unless we leave the country,” one officer said.
Outside, soldiers found ways to occupy a boring afternoon Tuesday as they waited for the last convoys to arrive. They posed for photos at Saddam’s official podium, and found a fountain to wash the grime from their heads.
Nearby, 3rd Infantry Division troops watched the incoming soldiers from a shady tree grove. The 1st Brigade soldiers were in awe of the war fighters.
Staff Sgt. Michael Bettencourt and fellow soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment wandered over to talk to the 3rd ID troops.
Bettencourt got a good look at the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle that was ambushed when the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment made a “thunder run” through Baghdad in early April.
“Did you see that Bradley that took six RPG rounds? God, they took hell,” said Bettencourt, 27, of Peabody, Mass. “And we sat this one out.”
Cpl. Bucky Hartman, 31, of Chesapeake, Va., was in the Bradley that got hit. Dozens of 1st Armored Division soldiers asked him about his battle experience.
“We’re just glad to see them,” Hartman said. “Everybody is just ready to go home.”