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Army Pfc. Roy Muffler, 21, of St. Louis, guards the afternoon's grilled treats. Company D, 2d Battaltion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., has managed to carve out a relatively pleasant existence since they arrived at their Haswah, Iraq, patrol base in October.

Army Pfc. Roy Muffler, 21, of St. Louis, guards the afternoon's grilled treats. Company D, 2d Battaltion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., has managed to carve out a relatively pleasant existence since they arrived at their Haswah, Iraq, patrol base in October. (By Mike Gisick / S&S)

Army Pfc. Roy Muffler, 21, of St. Louis, guards the afternoon's grilled treats. Company D, 2d Battaltion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., has managed to carve out a relatively pleasant existence since they arrived at their Haswah, Iraq, patrol base in October.

Army Pfc. Roy Muffler, 21, of St. Louis, guards the afternoon's grilled treats. Company D, 2d Battaltion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., has managed to carve out a relatively pleasant existence since they arrived at their Haswah, Iraq, patrol base in October. (By Mike Gisick / S&S)

Army Sgt. James Higgins, 34, searches an Iraqi man in Haswah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, on Friday. The Missouri native's unit, Company D, 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is responsible for security in the town with its potentially volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

Army Sgt. James Higgins, 34, searches an Iraqi man in Haswah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, on Friday. The Missouri native's unit, Company D, 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., is responsible for security in the town with its potentially volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. (By Mike Gisick / S&S)

HASWAH, Iraq — They barbecue in the dirt yard every two or three days.

They had to shoot their dog — that’s a somewhat unfortunate story — but the old girl was up and about again the next day, following them to town.

After three months at Patrol Base Haswah, an old police station about 30 miles south of Baghdad, life for this infantry company from Fort Campbell, Ky., has taken on something of a country rhythm, complete with a platoon of grinning Iraqi police officers in the role of mischievous neighbors and a choice of dip or cigarettes, steaks or burgers.

“This is the first patrol base I’ve been at that I actually liked,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Dollar, a 32-year-old native of Sikeston, Mo. “All the other ones you were either getting mortared, shot at or you didn’t have anything.”

As if to demonstrate the present bounty, another soldier brought Dollar a bag of Jolly Ranchers, which Dollar handed over to an Iraqi police officer who had been begging for candy on behalf of his three kids.

“See,” Dollar says. “In OIF I you had to kill somebody for a bag of Jolly Ranchers. Now I’m giving that [expletive] away.”

Nearby, another soldier, nicknamed “Cookie,” turned the steaks, requisitioned from the nearest dining facility, a few miles up the road at Forward Operating Base Kalsu.

Kalsu, where Company D’s parent unit — the 2d Bnattalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division — is based, doesn’t exactly hold the allure of a shining city on the hill anyway, being at present a mud pit, and boring.

“We’ve got refit tomorrow, but I think we’re just going to stay here,” said 1st Lt. Adam Decker, 24, of Warren, Pa., standing on dry ground near the grill. His platoon’s Xbox 360 is broken, he said, but they could probably manage to get it fixed without a visit to the FOB and, anyway, they have a PlayStation 3.

There’s serious business here, too. Though the unit has seen little violence since it arrived for a 15-month tour in October, its patrol base sits in the middle of a potentially volatile patchwork of Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

The Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr, has so far abided a cease-fire handed down last year, but it remains a highly visible presence. Al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sunni extremist group that operates under no such cease-fire, has faded from view but is widely assumed to linger in the shadows.

“It’s night and day from the last time I was here in ‘05-‘06,” said Company D 1st Sgt. Philip Blaisdell, 35, of Bedford, Mass. “The Iraqi police are doing a far better job now, but you never know. You can go out 50 times and nothing happens and then the 51st time, you hit a [expletive] storm.”

Occasional raids target al-Qaida members and hard-core Mahdi leaders, but for now most patrols focus on community-building efforts. During one patrol late last week the company’s 4th Platoon visited the owner of a used-car lot.

A side of meat hung from a stall out front and sheep milled around in the mud, along with about two dozen men. The business owner, offering tea and cigarettes, complained about the lack of street lights and the early hour of the evening curfew. Another man said one of the sheiks working with U.S. forces “only hires his family members.”

The platoon’s leader, 1st Lt. Thomas Swanson, said he’d look into those issues. Meanwhile, some of his men scouted the ramshackle compound for advantageous fighting positions.

For now, at least, the dramas remain on a lower key. Two or three weeks ago, the company’s favorite stray dog, a black and white female alternately called Oreo or Spot, who faithfully follows the soldiers out on foot patrol, was along as usual when she got tangled up with a military bomb-sniffing dog and had to take a bullet.

“It was actually us that shot her, unfortunately,” Swanson, 26, of Atlanta, said. “We tried to keep her penned up but somehow she got out. She didn’t know any better.”

The sergeant who shot her, Swanson added, swore regretfully before he pulled the trigger.

But old Spot — or Oreo, if you like — got patched up and barely missed a patrol.


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