Lions of Salah ad Din by James Dietz
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment (Task Force Black Lion) are halted while conducting a joint patrol in the streets of Samarra during the heat of the Iraqi summer. The Soldiers frequently conduct joint patrols inside the city in order to meet with key leaders, inspect on-going reconstruction projects, respond to IEDs and small arms attacks, and investigate purported weapons caches. The patrol is accompanied by our Iraqi Security Force partners. As part of the mission to advise and assist the ISF, 1-28IN Soldiers (representing members of Attack, Battle, Combat, Destroyer, Excalibur and Hunter Companies) work alongside their Iraqi counterparts in all facets of daily life. They carry only the essentials (ACUs, Boots, Kevlar Helmet, Gloves, Eye Protection, Knee Pads, Interceptor Body Armor, Magazine Pouches, Radio Pouches, Utility Pouches, Water Source, M4's, M203's, M249's, M9's, and M14's) as they live and work out of a nearby Joint Coordination Center along with their ISF counterparts (Blue variant of ACUs; AK-47's; Mix of Patrol Caps, Berets, and Kevlar Helmets; and Assorted Equipment Bearing Vests). The platoon moves in a platoon column with squads in trailing wedges and ISF interspersed throughout the formation. An ISF pickup truck (Ford F-150) with a heavy weapongunner(PKM) trails the patrol ready to assist with blocking traffic and evacuating a casualty if required. OH-58s (Kiowas) fly overhead, providing over-watch, while staying away from airspace directly over the Al-Askari Shrine (Golden Mosque). Despite the threats that exist all around them, the citizens of Samarra are out on the streets conducting business as usual. Few, mostly children, even pay much attention to the patrol as they have grown accustomed to seeing US Forces. Most people are either indifferent or happy to see US and Iraqi Soldiers securing their streets, but the occasional scowl can be seen. Most of the Soldiers smile and are respectful of local Iraqis while remaining vigilant for any sign of trouble. A rifleman pulls security at an intersection and scans the rooftops of blown out buildings for any threats. A squad leader issues instructions to his team leaders regarding a change in the patrol route. The streets of Samarra are still marred from years of fighting when the city was on the verge of complete destruction as is evidenced by the rubble, trash, and pock-marked walls. The Al-Askari Shrine (Golden Mosque of Samarra) can be seen in the background. The Mosque continues to be put back together following the bombings that brought it down and touched off sectarian violence all over Iraq in 2006 and 2007. There exists a definite parallel between the Mosque's repair status and Samarra's reconstruction progress. Although the Mosque is now standing and continues to be repaired, more work remains. Soon, with continued efforts from US Forces and the Government of Iraq, Samarra too will be rebuilt to its former glory and economic/historical and iconic status in the region.
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