1st Battalion 22nd Infantry

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Mortar platoon guards detainees, patrols Tikrit

By Staff Sgt. Craig Pickett
June 23, 2003


SGT Oscar Ipatzi keeps watch on top the roof of his building
Photo by SSG Craig Pickett


TIKRIT, Iraq (Army News Service, June 23, 2003) – Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Brigade’s Mortar Platoon assumed they would have one job when they arrived in Iraq: to lob mortar shells at the enemy.

Once there, however, their one job turned into three, and the three jobs have nothing to do with mortars.

One of their three tasks is to man a detention facility for 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division's area of responsibility. If the military police or an infantryman detains an Iraqi, they are brought to a small building on the north side of the palace complex that serves as a holding cell.

Detainees come in at all hours of the day and night, sometimes one at a time or in small groups. Sgt. Steve Jenkins is the person in charge of processing them.

Searches are the first step in the detainment process. The person being held, and his willingness to cooperate, determines how he will be handled. "Every now and then we get an individual who doesn't want to comply with the searches," said Jenkins.

"I come down here with an aggressive attitude," said Sgt. Andrew Antolik, one of the soldiers who commonly searches the new arrivals. "If they put up resistance, then I get tough, but if they comply and allow the search, then I back off."

Once they are searched, Jenkins itemizes all of the cash, jewelry, or photos found on a detainee.

Jenkins, a native of Guymon, Okla., places the items into an empty Meal-Ready-to-Eat bag and assigns it a number. The detainee then gets a tape wristband with the same number to ensure he gets his items back.

When not guarding the holding facility or processing detainees, one or two soldiers must man an observation post on the roof of their building 24 hours a day and look out over the Tigris River to the far shore, watching for snipers and anything suspicious. They also keep an eye on a bridge to the north to ensure no one tries to cross.

Their third job is going on patrols through the city or setting up traffic control points where they monitor traffic and search suspicious vehicles. Either way, they get a chance to get out of camp and interact with the locals.

"The toughest part is the language barrier," said Spc. Jared Jablawski as he manned a .50-caliber machine gun while providing security at a traffic control point. Jablawski and his fellow soldiers are adapting and learning the language. They are picking up key words to make their job easier. Words like open and close and the basic parts of cars, like hood and door, make the checkpoint run a little smoother, he said.

It is not always smooth, Jablawski said. Oftentimes during the checkpoint, cars begin to back up and many try to cut in line in front of others who have waited patiently. They start their own line on the shoulder of the road in hopes the soldiers will check them next and let them through.

"It's hard to get one line," Jablawski said, about the cars lining up waiting for the checkpoint. "They are used to doing things their own way."

One way they combat this, is to do what they call the “Loopty-Loop.” This is a process where they let cars cut and form their own line. Then, after an ample amount of cars are on the shoulder trying to weasel into the main line, they stop traffic and direct all the would-be line-cutters to the back of the line.

Another way soldiers deal with the long hot days is to retreat to their house.

The platoon lives in one of the many palaces along the Tigris River. Their palace has floors of marble arranged in interesting patterns. The walls rise up into a domed ceiling with intricate filigree carvings and a beaded chandelier as its centerpiece. The walls themselves are decorated with multiple moldings and the same filigree as the ceiling.

This is where they call home, where they find solace after a long day under the sweltering sun.

"The best thing we have is this house," said 1st Lt. Colin Crow, platoon leader. "The more they improve their house, the more livable it becomes. Morale continually goes up with each improvement."

Members of the platoon recently pooled their money and purchased a satellite dish from a local vender, said Crow. Now they can watch television to help relax and pass the time. There are many channels in English and they are able to catch a pretty good movie every now and then.

Along with television, many pass the time writing letters home. Jablawski said he is usually too tired to do much else at the end of the day. "I like to write home to get into a different mind set," he said.

Home is on everyone's mind, and when they are leaving is always in debate. Rumors fly from one day to the next as to when they will be headed home. Some of it is wishful thinking; some of it is pessimistic at best. All agree they wish they knew a firm date.

( Staff Sgt. Craig Pickett is a journalist with the 350th MPAD, part of the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq.)


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