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Clearing a Village at Night
By Richard Rubright / Special Correspondent
Mar 20, 2008 - 9:53:44 PM

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PFC Kirby Rider Photos Image of CH47 Chinook helicopter from HHC Co 4th SCBT, 2nd Infantry Division conducting night operations, seen through night vision goggles.
Last week I wrote about clearing a village in the day time where the majority of people were not suspected to be working with or helping Al Qaeda.  A short time after that operation I was afforded the opportunity to go on a mission that was the complete opposite.  The village in question is located about 10 miles south of Baquba.  It had been searched four times before our mission due to observed insurgent activities.  Quite literally people were watched leaving the village to plant Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on a nearby road. 

The first couple of times the village was searched and cleared it was done politely; soft knocks on the door and a request that people come out of their homes.  Houses searched in a restrained manner in a general effort to keep the inhabitants from becoming upset at coalition forces.  However, the fourth time, soldiers from 2nd Battalion 12th Field Artillery Regiment came through the village one of their soldiers was wounded by an insurgent hiding under a blanket inside one of the houses.

Due to the number of times the village had been searched and the fact that insurgents were willing to shoot at coalition soldiers, this time there would be no chances taken.  The villagers were either unwilling or unable to stop insurgents from using the village to attack coalition forces. 

Soldiers from Battery A 2nd Battalion 12th Field Artillery Regiment gathered at the helicopter landing zone on Forward Operating Bases Warhorse at around 10:00 PM.  The night was dark with some cloud cover.  The troops waited patiently as large double rotor helicopters called Chinooks came in to pick them up.  The soldiers organized themselves into groups so everyone knew exactly in what order they would board the choppers when they arrived.

We flew south for about 20 minutes with the deafening whine of the helicopters turbine engines.  A green light flashed indicating we were 60 seconds from touching down.  The helicopter I was riding in bumped roughly to the ground and within 30 seconds we all had exited and the large helicopter took off leaving us on a rough open field….at the wrong location.

The soldiers confidently figured out their location and moved quickly to where they were supposed to be and started to assault through the village.  Locked doors where blasted open with shotguns.  Suspicious doors or buildings, such as one we found with a wire sticking out of the door jam, had fragmentation grenades thrown through their windows before the door was blown or kicked down.  The operation was as violent as it was quick.  Weapons were found, left by fleeing insurgents who wisely chose to run rather than die.  Explosives smoldered in a house ignited by a grenade.  The inside of the houses were torn apart to find electronics and items used for making IEDs. And while no US troops said it, I had a distinct feeling a message was being sent.  It seemed to read that US forces could tap on doors politely, but if forced to they could also be less polite.

This operation was quite a different one from the previous which I wrote about last week.  But it also is incredibly remarkable for a different reason.  There is probably not another military in the world which could take its Artillerymen (soldiers whose job it is to shoot huge cannons) and expect them to operate as Infantry as effectively.  

What makes it even more remarkable is that these soldiers operated effectively in the middle of the night, coolly evaluating the situation after being dropped in the wrong place and adjusting to quickly accomplish their mission. Not a complaint was uttered; it was simply a calm appraisal of the situation followed by a quick adjustment in an environment of pitch blackness.  Granted the night vision goggles we wore made it a lot easier, but I would bet there isn’t a another Artillery unit in the world, other than in the US military that is trained and capable of such missions and who considers them to be routine.

It was dark and the cloud cover was gone as the Chinooks came back for the soldiers at 2:30 AM.  They found the soldiers quietly waiting for them in the same groups they had sorted themselves into earlier in the night.  The large helicopters hit the ground and we sprinted for their back ramps, sergeants counting and recounting to make sure no one was left behind.  Within 40 seconds the turbine engines screamed as the large craft lifted us into the sky and returned us to the landing zone we had left from a few hours earlier.  No one got shot this time and for the soldiers of Battery A 2nd Battalion 12th Field Artillery Regiment it was just another Friday night in Diyala province, Iraq.

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