Two-sided tasks: Soldiers on patrol balance humanitarian delivery with searches
January 5, 2005
BAGHDAD — Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment have been both humanitarian and authoritarian during their time in Iraq.
During a two-hour mission Monday with the Iraqi National Guard, the soldiers delivered hospital supplies to a southern Baghdad clinic, and then tried to sweat out information from residents of another neighborhood about who was planting roadside bombs near one of their main patrol routes.
For the first part of the patrol, soldiers helped carry in equipment, chairs and a refrigerator as medical staff in white smocks watched peacefully. The soldiers on guard by their vehicles remained vigilant but were relaxed, even as a handful of area residents gathered to watch.
“We knew that when we were at the clinic, the area’s relatively calm,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Shatto, 3rd Platoon sergeant. “We know they weren’t actively trying to blow us up.”
Less than five minutes after leaving the clinic, however, the soldiers’ attitudes changed. Gone were the smiles, jokes and relaxed demeanors.
“We adjust to the situation at the snap of a finger,” said Shatto.
Somewhere between the clinic and the coffee shop, that finger snapped.
The soldiers purposefully marched into the shop. Dominos flew, tea spilled and shouts reverberated off the dirty white walls as soldiers tried to find out who had been setting roadside bombs, known to troops as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“We had accurate intelligence that people at the coffee shop knew who planted IEDs there,” Shatto said.
During the last attack on a U.S. patrol, the shop and a few others had been uncharacteristically closed. Whether or not they were responsible for the bombs, the shop owners knew something was going to happen and could possibly provide information to stop further attacks.
Other soldiers visited a nearby barbershop and a small garage where two Iraqis worked on a dusty white sedan.
Gathering back in front of the coffeehouse, soldiers stormed their way up a flight of stairs into a handful of apartments. As is almost always the case, none of the residents admitted knowing anything.
On the roof, however, they found a fist-size hole chiseled out of the base of a wall that faced the street. Looking through the hole, a soldier stated that it looked straight down on the spot where the last roadside bomb had gone off. Insurgents had probably used the roof to trigger the bomb.
To prevent the site from being used again, soldiers broke open that part of the wall, with large pieces crashing into a trash bin three stories below.
“Company policy is to use minimum force to accomplish the mission,” Shatto said. “Some companies and platoons find it easy, but some have a hard time turning it off.”
Knowing how to react appropriately to the situation is something each soldier must learn during his time in Iraq.
“It gets taught, but it boils down to situational awareness,” Shatto said.
Less than 20 minutes later, the finger snapped again.
The soldiers reboarded their vehicles and made a two-minute drive to the nearby al Daura power plant. There, they were again all smiles and jokes after the promotion ceremony for a fellow soldier.
“We have to know when to turn that switch on and when to turn it off,” said Shatto. “It would be counterproductive to keep it on all the time.”