I feel I need to talk about the elections that were held here at the end of January.
My unit was attached to 82nd ENG BN, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, at FOB Gabe, located in Baqubah, Iraq. Our mission was route security, AIF interdiction, and physical security of the tallest structure in Iraq, the Diyala Radio tower and Diyala Media Center. This was a very important site to secure, due to the fact that the tower broadcasts across the nation, and it was being used to broadcast campaign material and encourage voters to go to the polls. The terrorists would have liked no better than to destroy the tower and stop the spread of information. It is 1300ft high. I climbed it. It took a long time. A loooooooong time. I kinda wished I had a G.I. Joe with a homemade parachute, like I used to make when I was a kid. But I digress...
For the actual election, our tasking was two-fold. First, we ensured that the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces (IA and IP)], had enough ammunition, food, supplies, barrier material, and communication to guard their own polling sites (PS). Secondly, our job was to patrol the sector and be able to react to any threats or attacks that might have taken place that day. This included enforcing the no vehicle curfew in place to guard against VBIEDs and drive-by shootings, clearing main routes in and around the city of Kana'an, about 12 miles NE of Baqubah, and generally projecting a presence to assure the constituency that it was safe to go to the polls.
The ISF secured their own polling sites. This was to ensure no one pointed the finger and accused the coalition forces of tampering with the balloting material. We provided armed escort to the balloting material to the PS, but after the ballots were inside the PS, no Coalition Forces entered the buildings.
There were 7 polling sites in our sector. Three were within a 5 mile or so radius, the rest were out in the boondocks. Our job the day prior to the elections was to patrol from PS to PS, delivering MREs, water, ammo and anything else the ISF needed to ensure security. We also made sure that the routes were clear of IEDs, which on one of the routes in the area, they were copious. Bombs everywhere. Luckily, we found some, but a few were detonated on Charlie Company, the company we were attached to.
(A quick word about C Co, 82nd Engineers. These guys were awesome. They treated us like family, from the first day we arrived to the day we left to rejoin our parent unit. To them, we were't "those NG guys;" we were team members, no matter what component. That is a rare attitude to find in the Regular Army, and we sure did appreciate it. I will never again make fun of the little castles the engineers always build out in front of their battalion areas. CHARLIE ROCK!!!!!!!!)
We conducted a 10 hour patrol the morning before the elections, from 0300 until 1300. We were able to get a hot meal and refit for the next mission, which kicked off at 2200 the night before the elections. We patrolled contiuously from 2200 until 0600 the morning of the elections. We then staged our patrol at IA HQ in Kana'an, as a pre-positioned Quick Reaction Force. We tried to catch a little combat nap, as the site we were at was somewhat secure. I emphasize "SOMEWHAT." No sooner had I laid down on the roof of my HMMWV, curled up in the fetal position under my space blanket in my little turret -- no way was I going more than 2 feet from MaDeuce that day -- that some jerk decided to blow up an IED 100m behind the wall of the IA HQ we were stationed at. How rude of an awakening that was. So we of course jump into action and speed to the site and cordon off the area, making sure that there were no secondary devices. We shot a suspicious box with MaDeuce, and it turned out to be just a box and did not explode. Oh, well, I am always happy to burn a little gunpowder and make some noise.
The rest of the day had nothing to do with rest. There were reported IEDs all over the city. Most of them were very small, man-portable devices, due to the vehicle restriction being heavily enforced. Basically, if you were foolish enough to drive on those two days;
1. You were going to the hospital and you reaaaaaaallly needed to go, or
2. You got the scare of your life when four or more armored HMMWVs chased you down, put guns in your mug, and gave you their best angry face. Ever seen a felony stop on the TV show "COPS"? Like that, but with lots more cold steel.
When you look at the M2 .50cal MG, with a hole in the end of it most people can stick their index finger in, people tend to get the message. Drivers were detained unless they had valid ISF identification or were in dire need of medical care. I heard about a woman giving birth in a vehicle over the radio, and she got an escort to the hospital with a US Medic. That was cool to hear about: Born on the day freedom came to Iraq.
One of the team leaders in my platoon, SGT. SRA (Shall Remain Anonymous), made one of the most amazing shots I have ever witnessed. A 60mm mortar with a timed detonator was wrapped in a pink plastic bag and placed along a trail to one of the PS. Somehow, the device was bumped and it was exposed what the bag held. We responded and cordoned off the area. We had no idea how much time was left on the timer, and EOD was at least an hour away. SGT SRA moved to a position where he could safely engage the device with his M4 carbine. Using only iron sights, SGT SRA shot the detonator clean off of the mortar round. First shot. There was not a scratch on the mortar round itself. After about 30 hours without sleep and continuous patrolling, he was able to make this amazing shot first try. Then we were able to babysit the mortar until EOD arrived to pick it up.
There were a couple more IEDs that we dealt with that day, but none too exciting.
After the polls closed, we posted to different PS to ensure that they were not attacked after dark. Luckily, this did not happen. We then escorted the ballots to the main FOB (Forward Operating Base) in the area.
This concluded election day for me. We conducted 40 hours of missions in 48 hours. It was a very long day, but I am glad to say I played a part in ensuring the safety of the populace and planting the seeds of freedom in Iraq.