Team Jedi Episode 6: Combat Advisor Journal

Shifting gears and IEDs

(Editor's Note: Merv Brott and Kevin Connaughton, former Sulphur Springs residents, are part of a 10-man team training Iraqi soldiers how to do the job of protecting their country. Maj. Brott, the leader, writes about the experiences of "Team Jedi" for the News-Telegram. These dispatches will appear in the News-Telegram as soon as possible, but are first posted on the "Team Jedi" blog)

Episode 6: '24,' Baghdad-style

8 Sep 08, At the "Mustang Ranch," somewhere in Iraq

Sept. 14, 2008 - Our Mounted Combat Patrol (MCP) rumbled into the Iraqi Army (IA) compound, aka "Mustang Ranch." We dropped the ramp in back and climbed out of our armor-plated MRAPs. After hoisting off our body armor, we slung our M9 holsters on, transitioned to booney hats, buttoned up the mighty MRAPs and then dispersed to work with our respective IA counterparts with our "Terps" (Arabic interpreters) in tow.

I was sitting in the Iraqi Army (IA) Brigade Commander's office conveying, through my Terp, the steps he needed to take to get his new brigade established. We had been there about 20 minutes and I wasn't getting very far. I looked up to see CPT Aaron Wentworth, the team's Intelligence Officer, looking at me from the doorway. He had just returned from the detainee cell on this IA outpost. Aaron looked like he had some critical information that I needed to know about right NOW. I told Aaron to come in and he discretely leaned over to me and whispered me the news.

"Sir, we've got some intelligence from an informant here on the compound that we need to act on quickly."

I switched roles as quickly and cleanly as the "snik" my Corvette makes when I change gears with the paddle shifters. Just like that, I went from project management supervisor to detective. I told the IA commander that I wanted to question the individual; he seemed indifferent. We had an Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP) detonate on a vehicle (in a unit that supports us) the day before, and we heard that the responsible cell may still be in the area.

I walk over to the IA Intelligence Officer's room and wait for the detainee. He is escorted in by two Iraqi soldiers (janood). He is blind-folded and restrained. The Iraqi soldiers leave and close the door. As I hear the Arabic commands being spoken in this dirty room on this dirty outpost, half-way around the world, I suddenly have a surreal feeling that I've just stepped onto the set of "24." We begin our tactical questioning.

After the questioning, SFC Connaughton (NCOIC for Detainee Operations) checks the informant out to make sure that he isn't being abused - we make a point to the IA to show that we enforce high ethical standards and won't tolerate anything less. The Iraqi soldiers return the informant to his detainee cell. SFC Connaughton (aka: KC) checks the cell to ensure basic living conditions are being provided. It isn't great, to put it mildly, but it's the same conditions that the IA soldiers are living under at this compound.

Soon after, we mount up to leave the IA compound. "Jedi 6, we are Redcon 1." That tells me we're ready to roll. Snik. Now I'm the mounted combat patrol leader. Each combat vehicle reports in: "Jedi 6, this is Truck 1, we are -----------." That code word tells me our machine guns are locked and loaded and our IED protection systems are on and operational.

We return to our FOB (forward operations base), scanning the terrain for anything that looks out of place. We eventually reach our destination and approach the heavy iron gate at the entrance to our operating base. Every time I see the big iron gate it makes me think of the movie "Mad Max." I hear "Code 1" from from CPT Mack Kelley in the rear vehicle in our patrol, telling me we are all together and safely back on the base. Snik. Back to office mode, where I've got a ton of e-mail to catch up on and dozens of reports and daily summaries to go through.

The informant gave us reliable information. The Iraqi Army conducted a raid at the location given by the informant, and they recovered a significant weapons and IED (Improvised Explosive Device) material cache. Success! The Iraqi Army just removed a sizable amount of IED-making material off the street and arguably saved many U.S. lives from future IED attacks. I told you that progress is being made!

8 Sep 08 (the next day)

As I write this, we are in the middle of a pretty decent sand storm. No matter what I do, I'm choking on the dust, even inside. We've been deployed for a little over 5 weeks now - we are already 10% complete. We finally have our wish. We are out here on our own, alone and unafraid. Jedi 6out.

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