Soldiers keep wary eye on workers passing through Anaconda checkpoint
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — Every day hundreds of Iraqis flow through the gates at Logistics Support Area Anaconda.
They are either people with jobs on base or people who want work, if even for a few hours. Still more come with big trucks to deliver goods to America’s largest supply hub in Iraq.
No matter how familiar the faces or how harmless they may look, soldiers of the 181st Support Battalion, part of the 81st Brigade Combat Team, consider each a possible threat.
“If we have any question about an Iraqi person, we send them home,” said Sgt. Douglas Peterson. “We don’t take any chances.”
Each day, usually between 8 and 10 a.m., about 1,000 Iraqis walk through the base’s north gate. They are searched and their identification scrutinized numerous times.
Peterson, a carpenter back in Washington state, watches every day as people file past him to be searched by Iraqi National Guard soldiers. His eyes peeled for bulky coats that might hide explosives, he said, or a person who wants to be searched only by a particular individual.
Iraqis often carry guns, he said, and sometimes one will forget to leave it at the check-in point for weapons.
“We don’t take that lightly here,” he said. “We lock and load.”
Alcohol, electronic gear and knives are a few of the contraband not allowed on the base. The Iraqi soldiers pat down their countrymen from head to toe, checking their coat pockets and even looking inside packs of cigarettes.
“Everyone’s checked,” said 1st Lt. Annmarie Stormo, so it may take around 45 minutes for an Iraqi to maneuver through the maze of checkpoints and holding areas.
At the end of the day, the process is repeated. Everyone leaving the base is searched.
Capt. Stan Seo said the soldiers look for computers, documents and even soldiers’ mail.
After the morning’s initial check, the base visitors are segregated. The permanent workers with red badges go to one line where they are checked again before entering.
Those hoping for work are put in an area where they wait for a job that may or may not appear. If units on base need a building painted or a fence repaired, they can come and choose from the waiting crowd.
“Every day I come here, but no work,” one man in the holding area said in English. “My father, sick.”
Staff Sgt. Larry Larson, who is a health technician for the military in Spokane, Wash., said he feels sorry for the Iraqis who come looking for work. Some, he said, have worked for units that have left Iraq, so he’s tried to hook them up with the replacement.
“I feel for them,” he said. “I wish there was more I could for them.”
The individuals have not caused many problems for the soldiers of the 81st BCT, which is a National Guard unit from Washington state.
Vehicle traffic, on the other hand, has sometimes stiffened the soldiers’ backs when a bomb is found on a truck.
“We’ve had quite a few, enough to keep everyone on their toes,” said Seo.
Stormo said bombs are usually placed on the trucks without the driver’s knowledge. Recently, a truck rolled toward the gate with a bomb on its gas tank, but it was discovered before it got close.
“I call it probing,” said Stormo. “They’re trying to see how far they can get before we detect it.”
Truckers sometimes find the bombs and tell the soldiers. Bomb-sniffing dogs are also used to check vehicle traffic.
Bombs aren’t the only thing on the checklist. Sgt. David Medzyk said he is looking for anything on the contraband list, which he finds “pretty often.”
At the gates, the soldiers know there is never a time they can let their guard down.
“We’re the last check. If we miss it, it’s on the post somewhere,” Medzyk said. “And we haven’t missed yet.”