‘Vanguard’ Battalion infantrymen provide security during Iraq base closure
BAGHDAD—Spc. Michael Spinosa, a Soldier with Company A, 1st “Vanguard” Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center and a Shelton, Conn., native, searches an area for insurgent weapons during a patrol Aug. 25, 2011 in the vicinity of Joint Security Station Loyalty, Iraq. A platoon of Vanguard infantrymen were sent in to help bolster JSS Loyalty’s defense as the U.S. forces there transferred the base to full Iraqi control. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. William A. Joeckel, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C)
Story by: William A Joeckel
BAGHDAD—A platoon of infantrymen with Company A, 1st "Vanguard" Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division – Center moved their operations from Camp Taji, Iraq, to Joint Security Station Loyalty, Iraq, in late August in preparation for the drawdown of U.S. forces from the latter base and its transfer to Iraqi Security Forces.
One of the central features of Operation New Dawn is the transfer of U.S. bases in Iraq to Iraqi Security Forces and the Government of Iraq. Each base has its own unique story, mission and personality, and every unit that has inhabited these areas has left an indelible mark.
Even though the U.S. presence at JSS Loyalty has ended, pragmatic considerations remained. Security was of the highest importance during the closure of JSS Loyalty, in which a multitude of Soldiers and contractors packed up and headed out. All the while, Soldiers patrolled heavily-populated streets, meeting with Iraqi Security Forces and civilians.
"As [1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C] closed down JSS Loyalty, it was our job as an infantry platoon to come help them out by running patrols and making sure their guys got out alright," said 1st Lt. Kevin McGrew, a platoon leader with Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt. and an Orlando, Fla., native.
Performing multiple missions during the day and night, these Soldiers conducted both mounted and dismounted patrols, which took the infantrymen around very populated and built-up areas.
"With a JSS like Loyalty in the middle of Baghdad, there are a lot of high-rise structures, and as troops begin to pull out, the insurgents always know what is going on, so it has been beneficial to have infantrymen come in because it is our job to counter enemy action," said McGrew.
An added challenge to McGrew's platoon is that most of them had never been to JSS Loyalty or its surroundings. They are based at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad proper.
"The major difference [around JSS Loyalty] is that there are buildings everywhere here, and around Camp Taji, it is more rural so you can see people coming from a distance," said Sgt. Patrick Tierney, a team leader with Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt. and a Boston native. "So around JSS Loyalty, you have to have constant eyes on multiple floors, windows, and people."
Working with Iraqi Federal Police was a change, but the professionalism of the Iraqi Security Forces was a reassuring feature that the Vanguard Soldiers encountered regardless of location, said Tierney.
"During my last deployment, [things were different]," he said. "Now [the ISF] are out there manning the checkpoints—they have taken the lead, which it is good because this is their country and we won't always be there to support them."
Denying the enemy the opportunity to attack is a skill in which the platoon is well-versed. Realizing that weakness can be exploited at any moment from the few militants who remain in Iraq, Soldiers were constantly aware and waiting for any assault that could come from the populated street corners and tall buildings.
We took every precaution to safegaurd our Soldiers and the area throught the closure process, said McGrew.
Until JSS Loyalty closed down for good, the platoon was there to help keep an ever watchful observance on the activity in the vicinity of the base.
"We are infantry and we are going to get the job done," Tierney said. "Pretty much anything you ask us infantrymen to do, we are going to do it, with a smile. And it may take us a few hours or days, but it will get done."