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Soldiers for the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. Army man 23 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through three provinces in Iraq's north. Leaders from the three groups began standing up the trilateral checkpoints in January to relieve tensions in the area so that Peshmerga soldiers could search with Kurdish travelers passing through and Iraqi troops could inspect Arabic ones. Most of all, the effort is meant to dampen tensions among the two militaries themselves, as the country works toward enveloping the Kurdish forces into the Iraqi military system.
Soldiers for the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. Army man 23 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through three provinces in Iraq's north. Leaders from the three groups began standing up the trilateral checkpoints in January to relieve tensions in the area so that Peshmerga soldiers could search with Kurdish travelers passing through and Iraqi troops could inspect Arabic ones. Most of all, the effort is meant to dampen tensions among the two militaries themselves, as the country works toward enveloping the Kurdish forces into the Iraqi military system. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Soldiers for the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. Army man 23 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through three provinces in Iraq's north. Leaders from the three groups began standing up the trilateral checkpoints in January to relieve tensions in the area so that Peshmerga soldiers could search with Kurdish travelers passing through and Iraqi troops could inspect Arabic ones. Most of all, the effort is meant to dampen tensions among the two militaries themselves, as the country works toward enveloping the Kurdish forces into the Iraqi military system.
Soldiers for the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. Army man 23 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through three provinces in Iraq's north. Leaders from the three groups began standing up the trilateral checkpoints in January to relieve tensions in the area so that Peshmerga soldiers could search with Kurdish travelers passing through and Iraqi troops could inspect Arabic ones. Most of all, the effort is meant to dampen tensions among the two militaries themselves, as the country works toward enveloping the Kurdish forces into the Iraqi military system. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
A U.S.-hired translators talks with a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier. The two Iraq groups speak different languages - Arabic and Kurdish - though sometimes Kurd soldiers know some Arabic. The U.S. soldiers also man the checkpoints, but they generally sit back from the road and watch as the Arab and Kurdish soldiers interact with the travelers.
A U.S.-hired translators talks with a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier. The two Iraq groups speak different languages - Arabic and Kurdish - though sometimes Kurd soldiers know some Arabic. The U.S. soldiers also man the checkpoints, but they generally sit back from the road and watch as the Arab and Kurdish soldiers interact with the travelers. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
At the checkpoints inside the CSA, equal numbers of Iraqis and Kurds man the roads 24 hours a day. At times, they stop each car for a quick inspection. Other times, they wave through taxi cabs, families in sedans, oil tankers and tourist buses heading west from the Iranian border, carrying Shiite pilgrims to visit Iraqi's holy sites.
At the checkpoints inside the CSA, equal numbers of Iraqis and Kurds man the roads 24 hours a day. At times, they stop each car for a quick inspection. Other times, they wave through taxi cabs, families in sedans, oil tankers and tourist buses heading west from the Iranian border, carrying Shiite pilgrims to visit Iraqi's holy sites. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The U.S. soldiers also man the checkpoints, but they generally sit back from the road and watch as the Arab and Kurdish soldiers interact with the travelers. The two Iraq groups speak different languages, Arabic and Kurdish, though sometimes Kurd soldiers know some Arabic. Often, they rely on U.S.-hired translators, like the one here talking with a Peshmerga soldier, to communicate.
The U.S. soldiers also man the checkpoints, but they generally sit back from the road and watch as the Arab and Kurdish soldiers interact with the travelers. The two Iraq groups speak different languages, Arabic and Kurdish, though sometimes Kurd soldiers know some Arabic. Often, they rely on U.S.-hired translators, like the one here talking with a Peshmerga soldier, to communicate. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
A Peshmerga soldier stands at an outpost at Checkpoint 3 in the Combined Security Area, where one Kurdish and one Iraqi soldier simultaneously stand watch over desolate lands outside of Khanaqin, a Kurdish town near the Iranian border. Each man has his own small shelter. On a recent day, the two soldiers at the top of the hill did not speak the other's language. They worked together for four hours in silence.
A Peshmerga soldier stands at an outpost at Checkpoint 3 in the Combined Security Area, where one Kurdish and one Iraqi soldier simultaneously stand watch over desolate lands outside of Khanaqin, a Kurdish town near the Iranian border. Each man has his own small shelter. On a recent day, the two soldiers at the top of the hill did not speak the other's language. They worked together for four hours in silence. ()
An Iraqi soldier stands watch at the hilltop outpost, one of the few spots in the area that draws mortar attacks. About six weeks ago, two shells hit within 100 meters of the hilltop within 10 minutes of each other. No one was injured.
An Iraqi soldier stands watch at the hilltop outpost, one of the few spots in the area that draws mortar attacks. About six weeks ago, two shells hit within 100 meters of the hilltop within 10 minutes of each other. No one was injured. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The disputed lands between the Kurds and the Arabs make up an inexact but deeply emotional border between the two people. The British included ethnic Kurds inside Iraq's national borders, then Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" campaign tried to force oil-rich Kurdistan to bow to his demands. Since 1991, the Kurdish region has been semi-autonomous. But the exact demarcation between Arab and Kurd remains under dispute, leaving border towns in places like Diyala uncertain which government is supposed to provide utilities, governance, and even security. The Combined Security Area, where Peshmerga and Iraqi soldiers must work together on all military missions, does have defined borders, a step toward cooperation in the area, U.S. military leaders say.
The disputed lands between the Kurds and the Arabs make up an inexact but deeply emotional border between the two people. The British included ethnic Kurds inside Iraq's national borders, then Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" campaign tried to force oil-rich Kurdistan to bow to his demands. Since 1991, the Kurdish region has been semi-autonomous. But the exact demarcation between Arab and Kurd remains under dispute, leaving border towns in places like Diyala uncertain which government is supposed to provide utilities, governance, and even security. The Combined Security Area, where Peshmerga and Iraqi soldiers must work together on all military missions, does have defined borders, a step toward cooperation in the area, U.S. military leaders say. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
In this undated file photo, soldiers from the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. man 22 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through 3 provinces in Iraq's northeastern region.
In this undated file photo, soldiers from the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi army and the U.S. man 22 trilateral checkpoints in the Combined Security Area, disputed lands between the Arabs and the Kurds that cut through 3 provinces in Iraq's northeastern region. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Outside the Combined Security Area, Iraqi forces man unilateral checkpoints, like this one run by Iraqi police. U.S. soldiers with the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, part of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, drive past the police on their way to a trilateral checkpoint deeper in Diyala's Hamrin region, rural hills dotted with towns of Kurds and Arabs living together near the Iranian border.
Outside the Combined Security Area, Iraqi forces man unilateral checkpoints, like this one run by Iraqi police. U.S. soldiers with the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, part of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, drive past the police on their way to a trilateral checkpoint deeper in Diyala's Hamrin region, rural hills dotted with towns of Kurds and Arabs living together near the Iranian border. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Peshmerga soldiers are funded through their regional government, though ultimately the force must answer to the government of Iraq. For now, Peshmerga salaries are slightly less than Iraqi soldiers. The Peshmerga often spend their own money on uniforms, guns and other equipment, a personal supply chain that leaves them looking mismatched, sometimes in forest green, sometimes in pixilated tan uniforms. They have no working radio system, though the U.S. military is working with them to put a communications system in place so they can talk more easily to the Iraq and U.S. sides.
Peshmerga soldiers are funded through their regional government, though ultimately the force must answer to the government of Iraq. For now, Peshmerga salaries are slightly less than Iraqi soldiers. The Peshmerga often spend their own money on uniforms, guns and other equipment, a personal supply chain that leaves them looking mismatched, sometimes in forest green, sometimes in pixilated tan uniforms. They have no working radio system, though the U.S. military is working with them to put a communications system in place so they can talk more easily to the Iraq and U.S. sides. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
2nd Lt. Ali Hussein Rithey, an Iraqi officer, has been working at Checkpoint 3 in Diyala for about three months. His platoon of soldiers lives at the checkpoint for 20 days at a time, then takes 10 days leave, a normal rotation in Iraq's security forces. He said the Arabs and Kurds work well together at the checkpoint, though he added that it mostly depends on individual personalities. His Kurdish counterpart, an older lieutenant recently demoted from captain, had only been at the checkpoint three days. When asked what will happen when the U.S. withdraws from the checkpoints, and ultimately Iraq, Ali shrugged. "I don't know what is going to happen," Ali said. "It's good, it's bad. Maybe it will get better. Maybe it will get worse."
2nd Lt. Ali Hussein Rithey, an Iraqi officer, has been working at Checkpoint 3 in Diyala for about three months. His platoon of soldiers lives at the checkpoint for 20 days at a time, then takes 10 days leave, a normal rotation in Iraq's security forces. He said the Arabs and Kurds work well together at the checkpoint, though he added that it mostly depends on individual personalities. His Kurdish counterpart, an older lieutenant recently demoted from captain, had only been at the checkpoint three days. When asked what will happen when the U.S. withdraws from the checkpoints, and ultimately Iraq, Ali shrugged. "I don't know what is going to happen," Ali said. "It's good, it's bad. Maybe it will get better. Maybe it will get worse." (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
At Checkpoint 4, 2nd Lt. Haidar Essam Adnan, an Iraqi officer, (left) and 2nd Lt. Salah Mohammed Fath, a Peshmerga officer, call each other friends. "We are just one force, helping each other," the Iraqi officer said. "Just the names are different." Salah, the Kurd, said the governments are working to combine the two forces, that one day soon his soldiers will wear the Iraqi Army uniform. "I'll be more than happy to wear that uniform," Salah said.
At Checkpoint 4, 2nd Lt. Haidar Essam Adnan, an Iraqi officer, (left) and 2nd Lt. Salah Mohammed Fath, a Peshmerga officer, call each other friends. "We are just one force, helping each other," the Iraqi officer said. "Just the names are different." Salah, the Kurd, said the governments are working to combine the two forces, that one day soon his soldiers will wear the Iraqi Army uniform. "I'll be more than happy to wear that uniform," Salah said. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
2nd Lt. Romssm Mohammed Fith, the Peshmerga platoon leader at Checkpoint 3, harbors deeper suspicions about the Iraqi forces. He says he likes working with the U.S. forces, a sentiment shared by many Kurds who don't want the Americans to leave Iraq. When it comes to the Iraqis, his words are harsher. He lost two uncles in the 1980s during Saddam's massive assaults against the Kurds, and he's worried former Baath Party members remain in the Iraqi ranks. "I'm not complaining," he said, "but I don't like working with the I.A. because they are lazy-ass."
2nd Lt. Romssm Mohammed Fith, the Peshmerga platoon leader at Checkpoint 3, harbors deeper suspicions about the Iraqi forces. He says he likes working with the U.S. forces, a sentiment shared by many Kurds who don't want the Americans to leave Iraq. When it comes to the Iraqis, his words are harsher. He lost two uncles in the 1980s during Saddam's massive assaults against the Kurds, and he's worried former Baath Party members remain in the Iraqi ranks. "I'm not complaining," he said, "but I don't like working with the I.A. because they are lazy-ass." (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Commanders for all three forces are aware of this sentiment. Earlier this month, U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Isenhower, commander of the 2-14 Squadron, hosted both sides at a dinner at Forward Operating Base Cobra to celebrate Eid al Fitr, the traditional breaking of the Ramadan fast. Kurdish Col. Ibrahim Salah Abdul Ruhman (left) and Brig. Gen. Munam Hasim al-Fahad oversee soldiers at the trilateral checkpoints in Diyala. When asked what might unravel the cooperative effort, Isenhower didn't hestitate. "Emotion," he said. All sides are also waiting for the Iraqi government to form so that a long-promised vote can take place to settle the boundary issues and clarify which politicians "the Arabs or Kurds" have responsibility for which towns in the border area.
Commanders for all three forces are aware of this sentiment. Earlier this month, U.S. Army Lt. Col. James Isenhower, commander of the 2-14 Squadron, hosted both sides at a dinner at Forward Operating Base Cobra to celebrate Eid al Fitr, the traditional breaking of the Ramadan fast. Kurdish Col. Ibrahim Salah Abdul Ruhman (left) and Brig. Gen. Munam Hasim al-Fahad oversee soldiers at the trilateral checkpoints in Diyala. When asked what might unravel the cooperative effort, Isenhower didn't hestitate. "Emotion," he said. All sides are also waiting for the Iraqi government to form so that a long-promised vote can take place to settle the boundary issues and clarify which politicians "the Arabs or Kurds" have responsibility for which towns in the border area. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The people who live in the disputed areas often doubt the Iraqi and Kurdish forces are working well together despite the checkpoints, like this one where people drive from Kurdish-heavy towns to Arab-populated ones. The Kurds especially worry about the impending U.S. withdrawal, Isenhower and other U.S. commanders say. "There is a rush to judgment based on an antiquated sense to stereotype" each side. Still, progress is being made. In Diyala, the Kurds and the Arabs now man three bilateral checkpoints inside the CSA, without any U.S. military oversight or signs of dispute or violence, Isenhower says.
The people who live in the disputed areas often doubt the Iraqi and Kurdish forces are working well together despite the checkpoints, like this one where people drive from Kurdish-heavy towns to Arab-populated ones. The Kurds especially worry about the impending U.S. withdrawal, Isenhower and other U.S. commanders say. "There is a rush to judgment based on an antiquated sense to stereotype" each side. Still, progress is being made. In Diyala, the Kurds and the Arabs now man three bilateral checkpoints inside the CSA, without any U.S. military oversight or signs of dispute or violence, Isenhower says. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The checkpoints in the CSA also rely on Daughters of Iraq, female civilians paid by the U.S. military to do personal searches on women when needed. These women have worked six months at Checkpoint 3, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week. They live in nearby Khanaqin, a mainly Kurdish town. With no extended family to help, one woman, a former Peshmerga soldier, says she locks her teenage and grade-school aged daughters in the house while at work. "There's no other job," she said.
The checkpoints in the CSA also rely on Daughters of Iraq, female civilians paid by the U.S. military to do personal searches on women when needed. These women have worked six months at Checkpoint 3, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week. They live in nearby Khanaqin, a mainly Kurdish town. With no extended family to help, one woman, a former Peshmerga soldier, says she locks her teenage and grade-school aged daughters in the house while at work. "There's no other job," she said. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The three military commanders in the area take questions from listeners at a Kurdish-run radio station in Diyala, the second such call-in show they've done in recent weeks. Callers want to know what will happen with the U.S. leaves. They want to know if the Kurdish and Arab soldiers are really getting along. They don't ask about utility services or unemployment, and instead speak deferentially to the military officers. Isenhower hopes the answers get harder as the radio spots continue. Col. Ibrahim, the Kurdish officer, (far left) wants to expand the conversations to a local television station, a move Isenhower supports.
The three military commanders in the area take questions from listeners at a Kurdish-run radio station in Diyala, the second such call-in show they've done in recent weeks. Callers want to know what will happen with the U.S. leaves. They want to know if the Kurdish and Arab soldiers are really getting along. They don't ask about utility services or unemployment, and instead speak deferentially to the military officers. Isenhower hopes the answers get harder as the radio spots continue. Col. Ibrahim, the Kurdish officer, (far left) wants to expand the conversations to a local television station, a move Isenhower supports. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
The radio station takes calls on land-line phones, then passes the actual telephone into the radio booth where a microphone is held to the speaker to broadcast the caller's voice. One female caller wanted to know whether a large group of detainees were recently released from Baghdad. Isenhower said four men under U.S. guard recently escaped from a prison and remain at large. Last year, with approval from the government of Iraq, a score of detainees were released, he said.
The radio station takes calls on land-line phones, then passes the actual telephone into the radio booth where a microphone is held to the speaker to broadcast the caller's voice. One female caller wanted to know whether a large group of detainees were recently released from Baghdad. Isenhower said four men under U.S. guard recently escaped from a prison and remain at large. Last year, with approval from the government of Iraq, a score of detainees were released, he said. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Brig. Gen. Munam, right, takes a question while the radio host, center, and Isenhower listen. The general calls the Kurdish soldiers his brothers, saying they are training together and conducting operations within the CSA. He asked the citizens of the area to be more cooperative as well, and he said anyone with complaints could come by his office on Fridays to talk with him personally.
Brig. Gen. Munam, right, takes a question while the radio host, center, and Isenhower listen. The general calls the Kurdish soldiers his brothers, saying they are training together and conducting operations within the CSA. He asked the citizens of the area to be more cooperative as well, and he said anyone with complaints could come by his office on Fridays to talk with him personally. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Back at the Eid feast, soldiers from all three units share ice cream and off-color jibes, normal banter in a job so far from wives and family. The U.S. dining hall served surf and turf for the celebration, steak and crab legs usually reserved for Sunday dinner. Most of the Iraqis stuck to steak or hamburgers.
Back at the Eid feast, soldiers from all three units share ice cream and off-color jibes, normal banter in a job so far from wives and family. The U.S. dining hall served surf and turf for the celebration, steak and crab legs usually reserved for Sunday dinner. Most of the Iraqis stuck to steak or hamburgers. (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
A group of Iraqi and Peshmerga soldiers pose before a shift at Checkpoint 3. "We are all Iraqis and we appreciate the U.S. forces," the Iraqi brigadier general said during the radio show, to another questioner who wanted to know who would protect the Peshmerga soldiers once the U.S. leaves. "They are going home, and we will continue to cooperate."
A group of Iraqi and Peshmerga soldiers pose before a shift at Checkpoint 3. "We are all Iraqis and we appreciate the U.S. forces," the Iraqi brigadier general said during the radio show, to another questioner who wanted to know who would protect the Peshmerga soldiers once the U.S. leaves. "They are going home, and we will continue to cooperate." (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)
Sgt. Michael Koch, 32, of Homer, Ala., is on his third tour in Iraq. Riding through Diyala last week, he said he finally believes he'll be going home for good in another nine months, when the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team returns to Hawaii. Romssm, the Peshmerga lieutenant who harbors worries about the Iraqi forces, also knows that day is coming. "We know the U.S. is leaving," the Kurdish officer said. "Our commanders will solve the problems between the IA and Peshmerga. Our commanders are working on it."
Sgt. Michael Koch, 32, of Homer, Ala., is on his third tour in Iraq. Riding through Diyala last week, he said he finally believes he'll be going home for good in another nine months, when the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team returns to Hawaii. Romssm, the Peshmerga lieutenant who harbors worries about the Iraqi forces, also knows that day is coming. "We know the U.S. is leaving," the Kurdish officer said. "Our commanders will solve the problems between the IA and Peshmerga. Our commanders are working on it." (Teri Weaver/Stars and Stripes)

DIYALA, Iraq — During the celebration of Eid al-Fidr in early September, Arab and Kurdish soldiers manning checkpoints together in eastern Iraq began pulling out their cell phones and posing together for photos.

It was a first for the U.S. soldiers who have been working for the last two months alongside the two ethnic groups in Iraq, factions with recent and visceral memories of killings, land disputes and deep distrust inside the border towns separating the northern Kurdistan region from the rest of the country.

Healing those wounds — and settling land disputes over some of Iraq’s richest oil deposits near Kirkuk — will take more than the short-lived elation that comes at the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting and reflection, leaders of the three militaries know.

But those moments of camaraderie are just what U.S., Kurdish and Iraqi military officials counted on late last year when they drew a large circle around the disputed areas across three provinces. Inside those areas, all military operations now must include equal numbers from the Kurdish and Arab forces.

To punctuate the new rule — and to show local residents that Kurds and Arabs can work together without coming to blows — all three players set up 22 trilateral checkpoints inside the newly named Combined Security Area beginning this year.

“The Pesh and the IA, they hate each other’s guts,” Staff Sgt. Christopher Mason, 28, of Gilroy, Calif., said a few hours after watching the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army soldiers during the impromptu photo shoot at Checkpoint 3, a post in Diyala in the southernmost part of the security area.

“We’re trying to get them to like each other.”

So far in Diyala, it’s working.

Diyala’s five combined checkpoints line the Hamrin region, a desolate and hilly area that sits between the Hamrin mountain range and the Iranian border. Arab and Kurdish soldiers work side-by-side, with loaded weapons, at posts that often fly the Iraqi national flag.

“When you eat with someone, you get to know them pretty well,” said 1st Lt. Dallas Gilmore, 32, of Kayenta, Ariz., one of the U.S. platoon leaders with the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, part of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Gilmore and other U.S. platoon leaders working with the Arabs and Kurds said they’ve seen no violence between the two groups since the Stryker brigade began serving in Diyala in mid-summer.

Despite the good working relations, suspicions linger, especially among the Kurds.

Second Lt. Romssm Mohammed Fith, a Peshmerga platoon leader at Checkpoint 3, lost two uncles in the 1980s during Saddam’s massive assaults against the Kurds. He’s worried former Baath Party members remain in the Iraqi army ranks.

“I’m not complaining, but I don’t like working with the IA because they are lazy-ass,” he said.

The platoon leaders on all sides acknowledge that individual personalities drive the work at the checkpoints.

Second Lt. Ali Hussein Rithey, an Iraqi officer, has been working at Checkpoint 3 for about three months. His Kurdish counterpart, Romssm, had been there only three days.

Lt. Col. James Isenhower, commander of the cavalry squadron, understands that deep-held stereotypes often color perceptions on both sides, especially when the power goes out or when insurgents move into an area.

He’s persuaded his counterparts — Col. Ibrahim Salah Abdul Ruhman with the Kurdish 3rd Regional Guard Brigade and Brig. Gen. Munam Hasim al-Fahad with the 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division — to talk about it. Twice now they’ve done a live talk radio show from Khaniqin, taking callers’ questions about what all three militaries are doing in Diyala.

During Tuesday’s show at FM 90.0, none of the callers complained about local services, despite a protest Sept. 8 just outside the town about power outages. Instead, many callers simply rang in to thank the military leaders for going on air.

Many questions were for Isenhower. Callers wanted to know who will protect the Kurds once the U.S. military leaves next year. Isenhower said the U.S. troop reductions, now below 50,000, show both the Iraqi and Kurdish forces can protect the areas.

Another caller questioned the Iraqi army general, doubting whether the Kurds and Arabs are really working the checkpoints amicably. Munam called the Kurdish soldiers his brothers, saying they are training and conducting operations together. He asked the citizens of the area to be more cooperative as well, and he offered to meet with local residents each Friday to hear from them in person.

“The population is still suspect,” Isenhower said over dinner earlier in the week. “I told them, ‘Come out and see.’ ”

weavert@pstripes.osd.mil

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