Ah, the bucolic marketplaces of the New Iraq (Now with 20% fewer Iraqis!). To wander from stall to stall remains an experience akin to a leisurely jaunt in a similar venue in the heartland of America:
Hundreds of soldiers from Fort Lewis’ 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were already positioned around the sprawling market by the time Adm. Mike Mullen stepped out of his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle Saturday morning. Other service members were out of sight but still working detail, while aerial firepower remained ready if needed.
“There were a lot of moving pieces and a lot of contingencies,” said Capt. Gabby Niess, a California resident who helped plan the security mission, dubbed Operation Rock Sword. “It looked like there was a lot going on, and there was even more going on in the air and behind the scenes.”
A company from 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment and the battalion’s personal security detail element – a total of about 160 soldiers – created two security cordons around the market and stationed snipers throughout the area. Two F-16 fighter jets and attack AH-64 Apache helicopters flew overhead to provide firepower if needed, and Air Force joint tactical air controllers were on the ground to coordinate attacks. A Shadow drone aircraft circled in the air to provide a view of the ground.
Air Force working dogs swept the area for bombs before Mullen arrived and were close by as the admiral chatted with commanders and Iraqi merchants. The admiral arrived as part of an eight-vehicle convoy – five MRAPs and three Strykers – staffed by 4th Brigade’s military police platoon.
Sweet, sweet victory. All hail The Surge.