Airmen use patrol near Ali Base as insurgent deterrent
ALI BASE, Iraq — Senior Airman Aaron Giere had The Presidents of the United States of America on his mind.
Not the actual 43 presidents of the United States, mind you — just the 1990s rock band The Presidents of the United States of America. The 22-year-old Hawley, Minn., native couldn’t stop singing a medley of the group’s quirky numbers recently as he and a group of fellow airmen prepared to roll out the gate on a routine patrol.
It might have had something to do with the fact that Giere’s six-month tour with the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron was ending in a week.
“Movin’ to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches,” he sang.
“HEY! Stop singing that song,” shouted Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Fort as he steered their Humvee through a slalom of concrete barriers.
“Peaches come from a can. They were put there by a man, in a factory downtown,” Giere continued.
“Dammit — now I can’t get that song out of my head,” Fort yelled.
As their Humvee rolled past a tangle of razor wire, electronic sensors and tripwires that surround the air base, Giere offered up one last verse from the song “Peaches.”
“If I had my little way, I’d eat peaches every day,” Giere sang.
On this particular day last week, however, Giere and Fort were part of a two-vehicle, eight-airman patrol of Ali Base’s “SAM Footprint” — a vast expanse of desert adjacent to the installation’s flight line and the most likely area from which an insurgent might launch a surface-to-air missile.
Ali Base, known to most of the U.S. military as Tallil, exists in a relatively peaceful part of Iraq, so the air base security force has yet to experience such an attack.
Fort, the patrol leader, said he looks on the patrols as a deterrent.
“Our job is to secure the patrol zone and keep the bad guys out,” said the 33-year-old Florissant, Mo., resident. “It’s all part of keeping the base safe.”
In most cases, the patrols spend their time checking out suspicious-looking vehicles or people on nearby roadways, or chasing down local Iraqis who attempt to enter the base in order to scavenge from it’s scrap metal dump, or “bone yard.”
While airmen have yet to encounter an insurgent with a shoulder-fired missile, there have been reports of shots fired by snipers. They have also run across bombs and other ordnance scattered throughout the desert.
“The most surprising thing I’ve seen out here is a 750-pound bomb,” Giere said. “It was from the prior war and it was just chilling out. It looked like a big boulder.”
Giere’s patrol called in an explosives team who detonated the bomb where it sat.
“They blew her to smithereens,” Giere said. “It was the biggest explosion I’ve seen in my life.”
During this particular patrol, Fort and the other airmen have been asked to keep a close eye on private security convoys traveling along the main supply route nearby. Several such convoys report that they were fired on by Iraqi police and Iraqi army personnel and returned fire. When U.S. patrols have followed up on the incidents, Iraqi forces have said they were the result of misunderstandings.
It’s unclear to Fort and the others exactly why these shootings have occurred, but they’re on top of the situation. Within a short time of leaving the base, Fort is leading both Humvees down the opposite lane of freeway traffic and pulling up beside a group of Iraqi highway patrol officers who are standing outside their vehicles at highway rest stop.
“No problem, no problem,” says a beefy Iraqi highway patrolman.
Air Force security patrols that venture out beyond an installation’s perimeter are a rarity, and security force airmen in the 407th say they’re lucky to have the opportunity. They say that while most of their fellow airmen are confined to jobs on base, patrolling airmen have an opportunity to meet Iraqis on their own turf.
Such was the case recently when Giere, Fort, Airman 1st Class Kristen Fluegel, 22, of Carlsbad, Calif., and Airman Britney Simpson, 19, of Milan, Tenn., pulled their truck up to the living area of a local Bedouin family. They have visited the family on a number of occasions, distributing food and small gifts to the children and parents, and treating a toddler girl for cuts on her feet.
“We’ve kind of spoiled them,” Fort said.
Giere described the visits as the patrol’s own humanitarian project.
“It’s important to capture these young kids’ minds, because they’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives,” he said.