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A sign at Camp Baharia in Anbar province warns troops against being lulled into a false sense of security.
A sign at Camp Baharia in Anbar province warns troops against being lulled into a false sense of security. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

Mideast edition, Thursday, September 27, 2007

RAMADI, Iraq — Platoon leader Lt. Nick Furloni usually says a few words about complacency before every mission. He may not use the “c” word exactly, but the sentiment is there.

“Keep your eyes open and stay sharp,” he says over the radio to those in the Company B, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment convoy. “OK, so maybe 90 percent of the people are OK with us, but that 10 percent is still out there, and all it takes is one bad shot, one RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], to kill you.”

Complacency is dangerous in a war zone.

And in Ramadi — where officials say the insurgency threat has diminished dramatically in recent months — leaders warn soldiers against being lulled into a false sense of security. Reminders that “Complacency Kills” are scattered around the base.

The roughly 6,000 American and Iraqi troops in Ramadi have gone 125 days with no attacks, officials said, down from a high of 30 attacks a day earlier this year.

No car bombs have been used against the troops since March and roadside bomb attacks dropped 99 percent since the brigade arrived in January, according to statistics from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

“There’s a dramatic change from being shot at every time you leave the gate until now,” said Lt. Col. Miciotto Johnson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment. “And you don’t want to take that for granted.”

Many troops in Johnson’s command also have been in country over a year as the Army extended the tours from 12 to 15 months midtour.

“We don’t want them (the soldiers) to think they’re home already,” Johnson said.

Time and repetition of task also increases complacency potential, said Col. John Charlton, commander of U.S. forces in Ramadi. He cautions his leaders to remind soldiers to treat every patrol like it’s their first.

“It’s human nature to settle into a routine,” said Charlton. “Some days might be exciting, some may be downright boring — but you have to treat every patrol like your first with your eyes wide open.”

The enemy is patient, Charlton said, and has all of the time in the world to watch and wait until “we let our guard down.”

“Then he’ll strike,” Charlton said.

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