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U.S. Soldiers Bitter Over Longer Stay In Field…Celebrate Survival In Afghanistan…Navy Repair Group Fixes Water Leaks In Fallujah

U.S. Soldiers Bitter Over Longer Stay In Field

First Armored Division soldiers are bitter about the extension of their tour of duty, even as they fight to subdue anti-American Shiites in Iraq's restive South.


April 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

KUT, Iraq - One year after invading Iraq, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jorge Velez was meant to be heading home today from Baghdad. Instead, the platoon sergeant was smack in the center of this restive Shiite heartland Saturday, kicking in doors and staging raids as Killer Troop hunted down supporters of America's newest Iraqi enemy, Muqtada al Sadr.

About 600 U.S. 1st Armored Division forces rushed into town Thursday, Velez among them, two days after Ukrainian troops abandoned it to about 500 of al Sadr's Mahdi Army militiamen. By nightfall, the Americans were involved in their fiercest combat in months -- withering rounds of rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov assault fire that wounded three soldiers and pinned them down for hours as they fought across a bridge over the Tigris River to reach this city of 250,000.

At 1 a.m. today Iraqi time, Brigade Commander Col. Rob Baker declared that U.S. forces had broken the back of the Madhi Army in Kut and that U.S. troops were in command.


''They're no longer an organized resistance,'' he said, describing three days of combined air, armor and ground assaults that ``hit them with a sledgehammer and put them in perspective.''

The soldiers in Saturday's raid were serious as they searched the empty ruins of an old Baath Party compound for the enemy. But when the work was done, the mood became bitter among the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment -- because they had gotten word on the eve of their departure that their one-year tour is delayed, indefinitely.

''It's hard,'' said Velez, 30, of Caguas, Puerto Rico. ``It's time to go. A year is a long time in Iraq. You're tense all the time.''

In the Persian Gulf on Saturday, troops were taking the shrink wrap off the First Armored Division attack aircraft, which had been packed onto ships before the Shiite rebellion last week pulled them back into service.

In short, the troops that had survived a year of deadly roadside bombs and sniper attacks in Baghdad were in battle again, and they were disappointed.


''Me, too. But I'm pretty certain that the soldiers understand their mission here. And they're going to finish the job, finish the fight here,'' said Brig. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, who commanded the rapid-reaction force that rushed south as Sadr's militia were overrunning Iraqi police stations and coalition compounds manned by Ukrainian, Polish, Spanish and other forces across the South last week.

Saturday night, the army said it was finishing the job in Kut, a city that fell to Marines a year ago and has since been patrolled by Polish and Ukrainian troops, whose separately negotiated rules of engagement meant they were here not as combatants, but as peacekeepers.

In three days of combat, commanders took Kut and killed, captured or wounded 230 of an estimated 400 to 500 Mahdi army militiamen who had taken charge of the city by overrunning the coalition compound and stations for the newly trained Iraqi police.

Baker said there were still Mahdi Army remnants in the city, including leadership, ``but they don't have the ability to organize and conduct operations from a military standpoint.''

Aircraft bombed Sadr headquarters, and ground forces recaptured the local TV station and coalition offices, which about 1,100 Ukrainian troops had abandoned Tuesday when black-clad gunmen overran it.

''Motivation is down,'' Velez said. ``We came here and did our jobs. Why can't other guys come and do their jobs, too?''

Specialist Everett Colby, 20, of Cooper City, Fla., plunked down several thousand dollars on nonrefundable airline tickets -- before someone broke the news that the Sadr forces would make him miss his June 25 stateside wedding.

There was one small point of consolation. His fiancée had already left Baghdad for Germany, but she was being recalled along with other 1st Armored Division soldiers.

So they will marry in June anyway. In Iraq.

U.S. Soldiers Celebrate Survival In Afghanistan Easter: Amid Surging Violence, Paratroopers Share A Sense Of Purpose, Hope And Family.

Douglas Birch

April 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Sun. All rights reserved.

SALERNO BASE, Afghanistan - They hung their assault rifles on nails and sang hymns in a chapel made of plywood and canvas. Outside, the assistant chaplain had stuck white and yellow plastic flowers on a waist-high wall of sandbags.

This was Easter for members of the Army's 1st Battalion, 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment, engaged on the other, less-publicized war front - not in Iraq, but along Afghanistan's mountainous border with Pakistan. Salerno Base came under rocket attack Friday and again Saturday night as part of a recent surge in violence.

Emerging from Mass yesterday morning, Capt. Jonathan Chung, 27, of Poquoson, Va., said he felt particularly grateful this Easter. He commands B Company, which was ambushed twice last week with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifle fire.

It was the first time his unit had operated near the Pakistani border, he said, and the first time that one of his patrols had drawn fire. His company responded with mortars, grenades and heavy machine-gun fire.

"We were able to take control of the situation and bring the boys home," said Chung. "In my book, that's a special Easter. After what we've gone through in the past 72 hours, the sense of family in our company is a lot stronger."

For almost 30 years after the Vietnam War, paratroopers with the airborne battalion were stationed near Anchorage, Alaska, waiting to be called if tensions in Korea escalated into war. That never happened. But in October, the battalion was ordered to Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. The 501st, with 1,000 paratroopers, immediately moved to reopen the lawless Khost-Gardez pass and began regular patrols of isolated tribal areas.

Osama bin Laden had a home in Khost and built a mosque there. Warlords in the area continue to defy Kabul's authority.

The presence of U.S. troops "is driving al-Qaida and the Taliban crazy," said Maj. Val Keaveny of Bremerton, Wash., because it has made recruiting more difficult. That, he said, has led them to stage largely ineffectual hit-and-run assaults. "The plan we have for them is to destroy them when they come out and show themselves."

But the recent attacks have also tested Americans here. Chaplain James "Brad" Lee, 34, of English, Ind., said he has had to start helping soldiers come to terms with "shooting at people and getting shot at."

Usually, Protestant services here draw about 35 worshipers. About 50 crowded into the makeshift chapel yesterday, with some sitting on boxes and others squatting on the floor.

Lee, an ordained minister of the Nazarene Church, conducted part of the service from an electric piano, where he led choruses of a gospel hymn that declared: "Alive, alive, alive! My Jesus is alive!"

Lee invited worshipers to offer prayers. A soldier in B Company gave thanks "that our enemies are such poor shots."

When Spc. Paul Riley, 21, joined the task force a couple of years ago, other paratroopers warned that he would never be deployed, much less see combat. Yesterday, in a brief ceremony outside the Salerno operations center, he became the first in the battalion to receive a Purple Heart since the Vietnam era.

On April 1, as he was leaving a village searched by his platoon, Riley was shot in the left hip by a sniper.

"I figured it couldn't have been serious, since I wasn't dead," Riley said. The attacker fled. Doctors left the bullet in Riley's hip, and he remains on crutches. He hopes to be back on patrol by the end of the month. The only thing that has changed, he said, is that "I'm a bit more suspicious of Afghans."

The Rev. Alberto Pagan, 41, of Lares, Puerto Rico, said it was an Easter like none other. The night before, after offering Mass in Spanish, he had been rousted from his tent by rocket attacks - and spent an hour in body armor, waiting for the all-clear.

"I think I found more spiritual meaning" in Easter this year, he said. "It's a celebration that means family. And this is my new family now. We're a family because we share the same position, the same struggle and the same hope."

U.S. Navy Repair Group Fixes Water Leaks In Fallujah, Iraq, Apartment Complex

By Patrick Peterson, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

April 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 KRTBN Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. All rights reserved.

The Sun Herald (KRTBN)

Apr. 16--CAMP FALLAJUH, Iraq -- A Seabee repair group fixed several leaks in the water system of an apartment complex within the embattled city on Thursday, as U.S. Marines prepared to end the offensive halt and clear the city.

However, several leaks remain in the pipe that was damaged when a Marine Corps bulldozer scraped up dirt for protective berms. A second repair trip is planned.

"We ran out of materials," said Utilitiesman 2nd Class Michael DeAngelo, 22, of Martinsville, Ind. "It's a big apartment complex and a lot of people live there."

As military leaders warn they will not wait long for negotiations to end the fighting, Marines and insurgents have skirmished at the outskirts of the cordoned city. Seabees have made several trips into the fringes to repair broken utilities.

Residents did not make them feel welcome Thursday.

"The kids were waving, but the adults were giving us that death stare," said Utilitiesman 3rd Class Daniel Clowser, 27, of Akron Ohio.

About a fourth of the city's 200,000 residents fled Friday as insurgents have launched hit-and-run attacks against Marines who hold positions at the city's edge. The Seabees heard little fighting during their last repair run.

"It was a quiet day in the neighborhood," said Utilitiesman 3rd Class Eduardo Rivieragonzales, 24, of Puerto Rico, who served as a gunner on a machine gun mounded atop a Humvee.

"People are coming out of their houses now, like it was before the Marines came in," he said. Rivieragonzales said he did not see any insurgents.

"I just saw a couple of suspicious people on the rooftops, trying to hide and look."

Equipment Operator 3rd Class Steven Mangrum, 26, carried two helmets with him, a new one and the one that deflected a bullet on Tuesday. Mangrum said his brush with death hasn't made him more or less cautious.

"I feel about the same. Ain't much else I can say about it," he said. "Everything was normal today. We were ready, but nothing happened."

The young Seabees on the Tactical Movement Team have trained for nearly three months with Marine Staff Sgt. Clinton Plaster, 33, of Olympia, Wash., who volunteered to be an additional Marine Adviser to NMCB 74.

The team, which escorts and protects repair crews, had its baptism of fire Tuesday, fighting for 5 hours to protect bulldozers extending a berm from a roadblock on the outskirts of Fallujah.

"They're used to having the Marines come in for support," said Plaster. "But I haven't found anything they're not willing to do in a hasty manner."

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