|BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 30, 2007 — Capt. James Peay was starting to feel like a third wheel.
Peay, a battery commander with the 82nd Airborne Division from Nashville, Tenn., was accompanying the Iraqi police chief, Lt. Col. Ahmed Abdullah, on a combined engagement patrol through the east Baghdad neighborhood of Suleikh.
Whenever they stopped to speak with people on the street, Ahmed did most of the talking. Peay stood off to the side, listening as his interpreter translated. His comments were mostly limited to hellos, goodbyes, and thank yous.
This was Ahmed’s show, and Peay was more than happy to give him the spotlight. It’s not that he is shy, Peay said later, it’s that, ultimately, stability in Iraq depends on the Iraqi security forces – and people like Lt. Col. Ahmed – taking the lead.
Successfully negotiating that difficult transition has become one of the major focuses of the entire war effort, especially since the kick-off of the new security plan for Baghdad, which has placed thousands of additional U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad communities, often living together in the same compounds.
Peay commands one of those new shared bases – the Al Suleikh Joint Security Station (JSS). For more than three months, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division have been living and working side-by-side with the Iraqi police and Iraqi army at the JSS to coordinate security efforts in Suleikh.
The paratroopers from Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, man the JSS 24 hours a day. They have a cramped section of the building to themselves, stacked high with boxes of canned food, water and other supplies. The police stay on the other side of the same building, and the Iraqi soldiers stay in another part of the complex. At least once a day, liaisons from the three units meet in the conference room to discuss operations.
When the JSS was first established, the area was so dangerous that the police rarely left the station. Some days, they went out only to pick up one of the dead bodies regularly dumped in the neighborhood.
Three months later, things have changed. The U.S. presence helped bring the level of violence down significantly. At the same time, it emboldened the ISF to raise their profile in the area – particularly the police.
“They know we’re here to support them, but at the same time, they’re getting to a point where they know security as a whole is in their hands,” said 2nd Lt. Jesse Bowman, an alpha battery platoon leader from Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
The difficult part, now, will be to maintain the security while the U.S. forces step back and the ISF step up. Peay’s patrol with Ahmed, May 18, his first as the new battery commander, gave an encouraging glimpse of the future.
Before the patrol started, platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st Class