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Third Brigade trains to take command

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February 20, 2007
by Jon Kalahar  

Fort Irwin, California --  Georgia soldiers are training right now to take on insurgents in Iraq.  One of the first things they have to do when the get to Iraq is meet the people they're trying to help, and this is also one of the most dangerous aspects of deployment.  

 It's a tense time for soldiers as they approach this make shift Iraqi village in the California desert for the first time. Company Commander William Clark is greeted by the town's police chief and them sits down with the mayor. The mayor asks for more weapons to help police. Clark has to be careful here in order keep the local law enforcement's trust. Outside civilians play soccer.

Soldiers try to make friends. "The Iraqi people are good people they're just plagued with insurgents in their country so you gotta try to work as closely as you can with the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army to kind of build a team," says Clark.

Clark then receives a brief tour of the town, a chance for a quick look around for the platoon escorting him. "Just try to get a feel for the place, for the town, where vehicles are generally parked. What's people's day to day activities are. As time progresses, it's easier to tell when something doesn't look right."

Iraqi Americans are brought in to test soldiers' interaction with civilians during this high stress mission. More than 250 are used at the National Training Center. They play their part well.

"One of the problem for the U.S. soldiers in the urban setting is the trust factor. How can you trust the Iraqi civilians when any one of them could have a bomb strapped to their body," says Pvt. Christopher Salsbury.

It's a bond not built overnight, but one false move and it could be broken just that quick. Clark and his soldiers must tread lightly.

"We don't want to show any hostile intent," says Spc. Patrick Verga. "We want to be as friendly as possible because first impressions last."

So by making Iraqi civilians feel safer, the soldiers will make the area safer for themselves as well. "They're a bit more likely if we're providing a safe town for them so they can go about their daily lives and not worry what getting blown up," says Spc. Clint Biddle. "Then if somebody's plotting on them or plotting against us then they might pull us and say hey, watch this guy over there. "

Because the more the Iraqi civilians do step up, the more soldiers can step aside.

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