Chickens fly the coop, and U.S. troops move in
Stars and Stripes March 22, 2008
TARMIYAH, IRAQ — Most soldiers call this growing patrol base simply “The Chicken Coop.”
That’s not just colorful military lingo. About a week ago, the base was exactly that. Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment arrived here to find feathers, feeding troughs and other chicken waste.
Rough as The Chicken Coop is, it’s an important part of the battalion’s expansion into the rural areas northeast of Taji, said 1st Lt. Calvin Kline, the battalion’s information and operations officer. This area is a longtime refuge for insurgents “dubbed the arms room of al-Qaida.” Prior units saw fierce fighting here. The insurgents even managed to shoot down an Apache helicopter in 2005.
The fighting and roadside bombs were so bad that the area’s main east-west road was mostly off-limits to coalition forces. Just as bad, attackers were chasing “Sons of Iraq” guards from their stations, putting a dent in American security initiatives.
Sgt. Erik Helms, a 1-14 Stryker commander, was stationed south of Taji in 2005. The road’s reputation made it tense the couple of times he had to drive it during that deployment. It had gaping holes, including one large enough to hide a coffin, that made perfect places to hide the roadside bombs Americans feared so much.
“It wasn’t a good road back then,” he said. “We felt real vulnerable, I guess you could say.”
Succeeding units managed to tamp down the violence and gradually started to weed out al-Qaida from the general population. But when a roadside bomb took out a U.S. vehicle, 1-14 leaders decided to reclaim the route for good.
On the first few nights at the base, set up not far from that bomb site, soldiers had to pull security at night without the reassuring presence of walls or concertina wire, said Spc. James Ebert, a 23-year- old from Carmel, Ind.
That changed quickly, though. Contractors ringed most of the base with concrete walls within days and placed towers on the perimeter.
Now The Chicken Coop allows the Americans to maintain a constant presence midway between Taji and Tarmiyah. They patrol the area around the base several times a day, and American convoys regularly drive the road.
U.S. soldiers share the base with an Iraqi army unit, to whom 1-14 leaders plan to hand over the base. With one Iraqi soldier for every American, the 1-14 soldiers have more ability to work with them and hasten the handover. The Iraqi platoons usually approach the Americans when they want to do a patrol or reinforce one of the checkpoints.
Feathers notwithstanding, the progress is something for the 1-14 soldiers to crow about.
“We actually love this,” said Staff Sgt. Efren Nila, a 26-year-old squad leader from Manassas, Va. “We are actually out here doing patrols, not just sitting around.”