A Soldier’s Story
First Sgt. Robert Jennings

Soldiers watch as Iraqi men unload balloting material at a school set up as a polling station. A Company, with the rest of the battalion, Iraqi army and police, has been busy preparing selected schools to serve as polling sites.

Soldiers see more action
as historic polling nears

The week leading up to the elections produced an expected spike in enemy activity. We, along with Iraqi army and police, have increased our presence in the city to try to quell as much activity as possible.

All the political parties have been trying to flex their muscles, using banners, pasting posters, blocking streets for rallies, and driving around town with loudspeakers. This may seem normal for most Americans, except for the gunfire that happens when a rival party enters the neighborhood.

Along with the elections nearing, people are returning from Mecca. This is a huge deal for the Muslim religion. Parades of cars decorated in colorful ribbon fill the streets. Except for the occasional celebratory gunfire out the car window, these have been mostly peaceful.

A Company, along with the rest of the battalion, Iraqi army and police, has been busy preparing selected schools to serve as polling sites. Concrete barriers, metal barriers, and concertina wire have been delivered to these locations to help the police create some standoff as they guard them.

>> 7:31 p.m., Jan. 23: Radio traffic from C Company reports that a police officer was shot in the abdomen while conducting a foot patrol. The other officers returned fire to the fleeing vehicle but he escaped. The officer was taken to the local hospital and underwent immediate surgery.

>> 7:45 p.m., Jan. 23: The police reported to our interpreters that there was a drive-by shooting at one of the polling sites. The truck sped off before police could react.

These are the types of attacks we anticipated. Our enemy will not expose himself for very long, so we are trying to position Iraqi forces in the best possible defensive positions.

Kids decided to joke around with the soldiers while the soldiers delivered ballots in a Kurdish neighborhood.

>> Jan. 24: The battalion, with Iraqi army and SMT (Iraqi SWAT), conducted a large operation over parts of the city. The final count was 12 of the 13 suspects detained on 11 different objectives. Enough contraband was found to ensure these guys will not be around to cause problems on election day.

We have relied on intelligence from local people who are tired of the problems to apprehend a large amount of bad guys. There are those people out there that have had it with the problems that are slowing this country's ability to transform.

>> 9:35 p.m., Jan. 24: A large explosion is heard from the patrol base. Reports from the observation posts place the explosion on one of the five bridges over the Kirkuk River. B Company was in the area and went with police to investigate.

It appears that a roadside bomb had exploded. Further investigation uncovered a second explosive device consisting of a 152 mm artillery shell. Before the Iraqi bomb disposal unit arrived, evidence of an injury from the first blast was found. All hospitals in the area were called, but no one had admitted themselves.

>> 10 p.m., Jan. 25: New curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in effect. Curfew will be enforced by police and the Iraqi army until 5 a.m. Monday, Jan. 31. This, along with an order from the governor that there will be no vehicle movement on election day, will assist all forces controlling the elections.

>> Jan. 25: A Company, C Company and police conducted simultaneous raids in two separate parts of the city. Suspects are believed to be involved in a car-stealing ring. The vehicles are then transported out of town to be tuned into car bombs. All three suspects were apprehended in their houses and detained by local police.

>> 5:20 p.m., Jan. 26: Our interpreter informed us that someone had called him to let us know that a political party was storing excessive weapons in anticipation of the elections. Capt. Bird, A Company commander, immediately alerted the ready squad, and notified the police to meet us at the location.

As soon as we arrived, we conducted a thorough inspection of the area. Items confiscated included: AK-47s, silencer, belt-fed ammunition, over 3,000 rounds of 7.62 mm AK-47 ammunition, and about 200 magazine pouches.

We didn't arrest anyone because the upper level people that work in the office were not around. We'll be talking to them soon.

>> 8:16 p.m., Jan. 26: Deputy police chief notified battalion headquarters that a polling station in B Company's sector was attacked by RPG fire. No casualties and minor damage to the polling site were reported.

B Company has had the difficult task of controlling the toughest area in the city. They flood the area with police and Coalition forces, but it is an area infested with anti-Iraqi forces. Those that are wanting change in the area are too scared to turn these guys in because of possible retaliation.

We continue to gather information and try to turn it into successful operations that will remove this trash from the populace.

>> 8:38 p.m., Jan. 26: The Mukhtar from Amu Shabi informed our interpreter that an explosive device blew up outside a polling station in his village. We dispatched 1st Lt. Richard Lane and a squad from 1st Platoon to investigate.

It appears that an explosive device was thrown under one of the police officers' cars that were guarding the polling site. After a questioning session with residents in the area, we may have a follow-up mission to detain responsible individuals.

>> Jan. 26: There were four other attacks on polling stations tonight. One police station saw an individual trying to place a roadside explosive near a polling station. The individual escaped after a brief gun battle.

>> 8 a.m., Jan. 27: I was eating breakfast when a loud explosion followed by a barrage of automatic gunfire came from south of the patrol base. The ready squad immediately started moving towards the vehicles and I went to the operations room and listened for radio traffic. Our scout platoon was in the area and moved to investigate.

A convoy from 2-11 Field Artillery was struck by a roadside explosive, followed by gunfire from the neighborhood. The scout platoon arrived and started clearing the area. Four personnel were detained and transferred to police custody. There was damage to one vehicle, but no one was injured.

>> Jan. 29: It's the day before the first free multinational elections in over 50 years in this country. The soldiers of A Company realize they are sitting right in the middle of groundbreaking history for this part of the world. We also understand the danger that comes from being here and we will continue to be vigilant to the end.

This is the culmination of our tour of duty here in Iraq. We have worked an entire year training police and the Iraqi army so that they can participate in choosing their country's future.

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, 2004. 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.

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