A Soldier’s Story

First Sgt. Robert Jennings

See also: In the Military


Newcomers learn the ropes
of patrolling Kirkuk

1st Sgt. Robert Jennings is deployed in Iraq with 4,000 25 Infantry Division (Light) soldiers from Schofield Barracks. He writes a Sunday column for the Star-Bulletin that began Feb. 1. Jennings, a 20-year Army veteran, has been assigned to Fort Riley, Kan., Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort Lewis, Wash., and Camp Casey in South Korea. He is now on his second tour at Schofield Barracks. He has been deployed to Panama, Japan, Germany, Egypt and Thailand. As the first sergeant of Alpha Company, Jennings is in charge of 135 soldiers.

See the Columnists section for Jennings' earlier dispatches.

Feb. 6, 0530 hours >> The C-130 airplane speeds down the runway in Northern Kuwait. We are finally embarking on our final three-hour leg into Iraq. Many of the soldiers' anticipation can be seen on their faces, just as others close their eyes to try to get some sleep.

We arrived in Iraq in the early morning of Feb. 7. The entire company is now settled in a small tent city on an airbase in Kirkuk, Iraq. That evening we had dinner with the senior leadership of the Able Company, 2-503rd Airborne out of Italy. They explain the process they have developed to show us all the "ins and outs" of our mission here.

Our leadership will shadow theirs for a few days so we can learn their techniques, tactics and procedures. We are going to be staying in a company patrol base in the middle of the city of Kirkuk. This will allow us to interact with the civilian populace for relations and information about the bad guys. The commander and I like the idea of working decentralized. This is a major responsibility but also a difficult task.

Feb. 7, 1000 hours >> Able Company has arrived with a few vehicles. They transport 2nd Platoon, the commander and me to the patrol base.

The first sergeant from the 2-503rd, Tim Watson, immediately starts to show me around. There is an in-depth security plan because of all the recent attacks on coalition forces.

The living quarters for the soldiers are better than expected. Our patrol base consists of three houses that have been heavily fortified.

The main house used to belong to a Baath Party loyalist that fled this neighborhood as Iraq was falling to coalition forces. The house holds about 60 soldiers in 11 rooms. It was looted as soon as he fled so we live in the kitchen and living rooms also.

We rent the other two houses, one adjoining and the other right across the street. These two houses are occupied by the other two platoons. We have two interpreters that live in the house with us. They are both American citizens; although born in the Middle East, they now call Michigan home. One was born and grew up here in Kirkuk so he is very familiar with the area.

Our mission here is different in most aspects than what we are used to doing. As a company, we oversee two local police stations and monitor many projects throughout the city. Some of these projects include overseeing the rebuilding and renovation of many schools, roads, and government buildings.

We have to build a good infrastructure before we can turn over the country back to the Iraqi citizens. Not only are we fighting the bad guys, we're trying to rebuild a city infrastructure system from the ground up.

We work closely with our police departments fighting the terrorist cells in the area. Coalition forces have trained them in basic police duties and we monitor their daily activities. They assist us on missions throughout the city.

We also work closely with government officials and religious leaders. The religious leaders, or Mullahs, have a huge influence on the local population. Iraq is a very religious country and the Mullahs can sway citizens' views.

Feb. 7 >> One of our police stations calls our patrol base because they have arrested five Iraqis for acts against coalition forces. Ten minutes later we are rolling. At the police station we pick up the five detainees and move them to the airfield where they are placed in a detention facility awaiting trial. They were in possession of a few AK-47s, grenades, and bomb-making instructions. This makes me think how easy it would be for them to attack us. Here are five guys driving around looking for a target. How many more are out there? I'm twice as alert going back to the patrol base. I find myself looking extra hard down every alley way. For all of us from Hawaii, this is our reality check. This is the dangerous part of our jobs that we will be dealing with for the next year. Staff Sgt. Matthew Smigielski was the Squad Leader for the mission. He said, "We're gaining confidence with each day. I wasn't sure how things were going to go, but I'm very pleased with my soldiers' aggressiveness tonight."

For the next few days we conducted mounted patrols on Humvees to get familiar with the layout of the city. We met with the police chiefs from both precincts we oversee, and received a thorough intelligence brief from the 2-503rd. We have our work cut out for us.

Feb. 8 >> We just apprehended a known terrorist bomb maker. After a quick analysis, Capt. Eric Baus, the commander from Able Company, 2-503rd, puts together a plan for a series of raids in the bomb maker's neighborhood. Capt. Todd Moe, commander of Alpha Company, 1-21 IN, observes closely. In one week, he'll be making these decisions. After a series of round-ups we were able to remove four more suspected bomb makers and their materials from the streets. I believe my adrenaline may have gotten the best of me. I am drained.

Over the next few days we continued to shadow our counterparts and try to pick their brains for information. This included a meeting with all of the town Mullahs. This was an important event because it allowed them to see the transfer of authority in the city and it allowed us to hear their concerns for future projects in their areas of the city.

Feb. 12, 2400 hours >> All of Alpha Company's soldiers have replaced Able Company soldiers at the patrol base. 2-503rd will leave senior leadership at company and platoon levels for the next five days to guide us through any problems. I think our transition has been outstanding and now it's time to get down to business.


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