Title: "81st Brigade Combat Team, Stories From The Front"

The 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) soldiers have the responsibility of performing their mission to achieve a stable and peaceful Iraq. The mission is not finished, hostilities have not ended, and the men and women of the 81st BCT are working hard to do their part in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

Our military families and the public have the right to timely deployment information and updates from the front. The 81st BCT PAO office is dedicated to supplying stories from the front to its home town media organizations, and will continue to supply information as often as we can. Below are several stories from the front for use your information and use.

Keeping Anaconda Safe: 81st BCT at Work

Patrols are part of a common routine for soldiers of Task Force (TF) Tacoma. TF Tacoma is a task organization put together to support our mission outside the wire. It is made up of soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), Alpha Company of the 579th Engineers, Bravo Company of the185th Armored Battalion and soldiers from the 898 Engineer Battalion. Tuesday, April 20, was no exception.

Sgt. 1st Class Norman Valdez, Staff Sgt. Dennis Sarla, Sgt. Timothy McClurg, Cpl. Patrick McCaffrey Sr., and SPC Scott Aponte were part of the four humvee patrol conducted that night. These soldiers are all a part of the A/579th Engineers attached to TF Tacoma of the 81st BCT.

While conducting their patrol, outside the perimeter, a report came over the radio there had been enemy rockets launched. They discovered the suspected Point of Origin (POO) was not far from their location. Minutes later, two Iraqis were seen by a dismounted patrol, riding a motorcycle away from the suspected POO. The humvees maneuvered into position to intercept the two Iraqis. Valdez stood on top of his Humvee and gestured for the two Iraqis to halt. They were then instructed to leave their motorcycle far away and walk back to where the soldiers were standing and they complied obediently.

One of the Iraqis told the soldiers he was part of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, calling out "ICDC", also providing identification to prove it.

TF Tacoma headquarters ordered Valdez and his crew to detain them. Sarla, McClurg, Aponte and Gonzalez approached and detained the two Iraqis. Only one had identification on him. One man appeared to be extremely nervous, smoking excessively, while the other one remained calm and appeared to be smiling.

Sarla and his men took the Iraqis into custody. The soldiers' small group, calling themselves the "Double Deuce," remained calm and performed their duty to perfection. The team reflected the entire ordeal had been a "reality check" for them.

The detainees were taken in the gate by the Fire Support and Scout humvees that were also on the patrol. The FISTERs (fire support soldiers) and Scouts blindfolded the two Iraqis upon taking possession of them. They arrived back at LSA Anaconda for residue testing.

Spc. Heather Gardiner is the unsung hero of this detainment. Gardiner is trained to test potential criminals for residue indicating contact with any sort of explosive device. These two Iraqi Nationals tested positive; one for TNT and the other for both TNT and an explosive known as RDX.

Gardiner said of her results, "This test is what would convict them (of launching rockets)." She explained presenting her findings, stating "I submitted a sworn statement, which my commander requested."

This sworn statement could be used in an upcoming trial; a trial that Gardiner may be testifying at. Although Gardiner's job is not one of glory such as the various patrol groups, but without her, the work done by Valdez, Sarla, McClurg, McCaffrey, and Aponte would be for nothing.

The "double deuce" team with the help of the FISTERs and Scouts did an amazing job of capturing the alleged criminals. Without the test results from Gardiner, the team would not have enough evidence to hold and convict the alleged criminals and their hard work would be lost.

_ _ _

The Gatekeeper

People who come into Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda must first pass through multiple searches and screening processes before they are allowed entry. The last checkpoint at the North Gate is Spc. Mirtha

Peralta, a soldier from Alpha Company of 181st Separate Battalion. Peralta spends her days scrutinizing the ID cards of local nationals attempting to come on base.

From El Centro, California, Peralta worked with the California Counter-Drug Taskforce before the deployment. She says her civilian job gave her practice in dealing with people trying to cross borders--experience that makes her more effective at the final checkpoint.

Security is not Peralta's original Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). She is qualified as a 45G, an MOS which involves repair and maintenance of various pieces of machinery like fire control mechanisms and laser range finders. Like many 81st Brigade Combat Team soldiers, Peralta has used her skills and adaptability to excel in a new area of specialty.

Would-be entrants are almost exclusively male. They do not arrive at Peralta's station until they have been searched multiple times by both Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) personnel and U.S. soldiers. During the search, local nationals are divided into different categories based on their reason for entry.

Many of the people Peralta checks are permanent workers who enter LSA Anaconda every day. Some men are professional employees, like plumbers or electricians, while others staff the Post Exchange (PX) and Dining Facilities. Each category of worker wears a specific color of badge to indicate his status and expedite the screening process. U.S. soldiers or personnel from Anaconda's contracting companies escort the workers through the checkpoints.

However, many of the local nationals who attempt to pass through Peralta's checkpoint are men who have neither badge nor escort. They are unaffiliated with Anaconda contracting companies but are looking for temporary employment doing painting or construction jobs on post.

The men wait in a holding area behind a line drawn on the ground as Peralta verifies their ID cards. She is adamant about ensuring that her line is respected. During the interview, one man tests Peralta by inching across the line, watching to see how she will react. "No, no, get back!" she says firmly. He smirks for a moment, but then steps back behind the line.

Time goes by fast for Peralta, who screens between 1,200 and 1,500 entrants on a normal day. As the single-file line of men move through her checkpoint, Peralta halts each one to validate their ID cards. If there is any question or doubt about the verity of someone's documents, Peralta does not allow him to enter.

Pfc. Daniel Simmons says that Peralta excels at her job because she is painstakingly thorough. "Peralta makes people take off their hats and hold the IDs next to their faces so she can make sure their mustaches are aligned," he says.

She is also stanch about keeping her work area clean. If one of the entering men wants to smoke in the waiting area, Peralta allows it on one condition: the smoker must pick up ten cigarette butts for each cigarette he smokes.

Peralta says when she first came, she didn't know what to expect. She coped with the unknown by putting up a strong front and not allowing herself to seem vulnerable. Her biggest concern was not letting people get out of control.

Her battalion commander, Lt. Col. George Abbott, praises Peralta's strength and effectiveness. "It was kind of hard the first day or two, but they all know that she's in charge," he says.

Her biggest challenge at her job has been her gender. According to Peralta, many of the entrants are unwilling to listen to her because she is female. Says Peralta, "I understand their culture is different, but I expect them to understand this is an American installation, and we have our own culture." She is unwavering in her strong stance.

During her first month working at the gate, Peralta has confiscated a large bag full of IDs that are invalid because of alteration or forgery. Some of the men try to fake official seals by drawing them on with ink pens, she says. Others replace their adult photos with baby photos.

"If I can't recognize someone from the picture or if something else is wrong, he's not getting in," says Peralta. Sometimes a permanent worker comes through with a damaged ID card. Since Peralta recognizes him, she will let him in--but first she cuts a slash in his ID card and instructs him to get a new one. If the worker tries to enter the post a second time with the same damaged ID card, Peralta turns him away.

According to Peralta, the most unpleasant part of her job is maintaining a strong front. "I can't trust anyone; I can't ever let my guard down," Peralta says. "I can never relax and let them see my weak side."

She proves her point several minutes later as a boy in his early teens attempts to enter with an ID card that has obviously been altered. "No, no, you have to go back," she says firmly, ignoring the protests of the boy and the older Iraqi man who has accompanied him.

When the boy does not move, she takes his arm and steers him resolutely back toward another guarded holding area. "Get a new ID," she orders the boy before she turns back to her post. The waiting men grumble among themselves, but respect her authority.

Peralta says she sometimes feels bad about refusing to let people enter. "I can tell that some of them really need work, but I can't let them in if their IDs aren't good," she says. "They know the procedure."

Sometimes she has to turn people away multiple times. "Maybe they've been using that same ID all their lives and I'm just the first one to stop them," she says. "It's not fun but sometimes I have to practice what's called 'the power of the pistol.'"

She may wield firearms, but she also treats the entering workers with respect. According to Peralta, she and her fellow gate guards succeed at their posts because they are able to be both strong and humane. "We're strict and we don't soften up, but we still treat them like people," she says.

The language barrier has not posed much of a problem for Peralta. "I've tried to learn key phrases like good, sit down, and stay back," says Peralta. "I really don't know anything, though." Her interactions with the entrants, though, suggest that she has learned much more than a few "key phrases." She scatters Arabic words freely throughout her conversations with the local nationals, and gives all commands in both English and Arabic.

In addition to giving her a chance to learn Arabic, her time at the gate has also allowed her to be proactive about post security. "I can do it myself instead of having to trust someone else," she says. "That's probably the best thing about my job."

Thanks to Peralta and her fellow gate guards, the inhabitants of LSA Anaconda enjoy relative safety and stability. As Peralta screens the local national PX workers, manager and escort Shirley Schuldt watches approvingly. "Peralta does such a good job," says Schuldt. "We are grateful."

_ _ _

An Outstanding Track Record: Tankers of 1-185th Armored Battalion

During their short time at Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, 2nd Lieutenant Scott McKinney's company has earned a reputation for excellence as they carry out their missions.

McKinney is one of the key leaders of Bravo Company from 1-185th Armored Battalion from California. Companies of the 185th are stationed throughout Iraq, but McKinney's unit works as a part of Task Force (TF) Tacoma to ensure the safety and stability of LSA Anaconda.

TF Tacoma is a unique element of the 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT). Comprised of troops from both Washington and California, the TF performs stability and support operations at LSA Anaconda.

Although the 81st BCT started out as an Armor Brigade, due to its mission requirements, the Brigade did not bring all of its armor. Bravo Company is now the only 81st BCT unit with tanks. The TF troops have some armored vehicles for tank support, but most of their tanks are the M1A1s.

The majority of Bravo Company's soldiers come from the High Desert of California. The Californian soldiers mobilized along with the rest of the 81st BCT in late 2003 and spent several months training at Fort Lewis, Washington and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

Although they are a tank unit, TF Bravo Company soldiers used much of their pre-deployment time to train in infantry tactics. According to McKinney, the company had to go through double training, perfecting their skills as tankers while simultaneously practicing foot-soldier infantry tasks.

The soldiers of Bravo Company learned of their mission shortly before the actual deployment to Iraq. In the months prior to departure, they were not sure whether their upcoming operations would be in tanks or on foot.

Now that their tankers are also expert foot soldiers, the soldiers of Bravo Company wish they could be doing more. McKinney says, "I hoped our missions would involve more boots on the ground instead of just looking mean."

Bravo Company has several missions, all of which revolve around the intimidation factor of their tanks.

One of their biggest missions is training and supporting the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) soldiers. "Working with the ICDC has involved a quick learning curve," says McKinney of his company's interaction with the local national soldiers. "We have developed a good rapport and rhythm with the ICDC as we support one another's operations."

McKinney and his soldiers also work to maintain stability of Anaconda's perimeter. TF Tacoma soldiers, including the troops of Bravo Company, also conduct reconnaissance and securit missions to provide extra coverage of areas in the region surrounding Anaconda. In addition, the tanks are occasionally called out to provide security during convoy operations.

On top of their other missions, the 1-185 soldiers also run a live-fire range at LSA Anaconda. At the range, soldiers are able to target practice on all individual and crew-served weapons. Bravo Company tankers have built range fans to designate the limits of the range, and provide supervision during shooting practice. They also ensure that risk assessments are made before every live-fire exercise to ensure the range is run safely.

According to McKinney, the company's tanks command respect. "As soon as we roll out, there is pure silence." The California troops were hit by small arms fire during their first mission, but have not been bothered or threatened in subsequent operations.

The company's success during their recent missions has mirrored their experience during the Relief in Place with the 82nd Airborne. The Bravo Company tankers have enjoyed relative tranquility during both phases.

The California soldiers have established an outstanding track record at LSA Anaconda, which McKinney credits to the company's proactivity and attention to training and preparation. "When we have a mission, we spend a lot of time planning to get it done, getting it done, and ultimately getting it done right," he says. McKinney commends his fellow Bravo Company leaders for their preparedness and success.

Some of the company's effectiveness also comes from their work experiences prior to deployment. Many members of Bravo Company have spent time working and training at Fort Irwin in recent years.

Other soldiers, like Spc. Eric Jordan, benefit from an overlap of military and civilian work experience. A veteran of the First Gulf War, Jordan was working as a corrections officer before being deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

"The Army helped me be a better corrections officer," he says of his civilian job. According to Jordan, the military instills "discipline, training, and calmness during stress." He adds, "When other people might freak out or go overboard, the training helps me stay calm. It radiates out to the other people around me, too."

The combination of tanker and infantry skills impart the California soldiers with a unique combination of flexibility and strength. The civilian know-how of troops like Jordan provides the frosting on the cake.

Says McKinney, "The myriad number of skills we have is very helpful in dealing with the situations we come across." He adds, "Every platoon in the company has a lot of experience. There are no slackers."

_ _ _

Engineers to Infantrymen:

Soldiers of A Company, 579th Battalion Show their Strength and Versatility

Like other elements of the 81st BCT, the soldiers from A Company of the 579th EN Bn have demonstrated their ability to be both forceful and flexible. Although they were trained as Combat Engineers, the 579th soldiers work in security and support operations at Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda.

Spc. Patrick McAfree is a team leader for the 579th, and works to provide support and security for patrol groups like the Fire Support Teams (FISTERs) and Scout Teams. During the patrols, McAfree's team occasionally runs into potentially hazardous situations.

Recently he and the rest of his team were involved in the apprehension and capture of two anti-coalition fighters. Another time, McCaughey and his men ran into a cache of rocket fuses while on patrol. In addition to providing support for the FISTERs, who they were accompanying, McAfree and his team also escorted Explosive Ordinance Demolition (EOD) specialists back to the site. The 579th soldiers maintained security of the area while the fuses were destroyed with a controlled blast.

Although he sometimes has to confront and overcome dangerous situations, much of McAfree's job involves staying prepared and on-guard. He and his soldiers maintain a strong stance, bracing themselves to defend Anaconda against any crisis that may arise.

He and his team have also served as convoy escorts, providing security for shipments of the various classes of staple items--food, water, and fuel.

At home, McAfree works at two auto body shops, where he manages 30 people. Although he is only a specialist in the Army, his experience in the civilian world has sharpened his leadership skills, helping him as he pilots his team.

McAfree and his fellow 579th soldiers have shined during their brief time at Anaconda. According to McAfree, their company is the spearhead for the 81st Brigade, even though they are working in security operations instead of combat engineering. "We have accomplished everything and more the Brigade has expected of us," says McAfree. "During the Transfer of Authority, the 82nd (Airborne) was very impressed with us."

2nd Lt. Derrick Tyson praises McAfree's skills and solidness as a soldier. According to Tyson, McAfree has a good head on his shoulders, particularly outside the gate. "This is one of my best soldiers," Tyson says.

McAfree is modest, however--for him success is a result of group effort. "It's not just one guy--it's the whole team."

He chalks up his company's success to hard work and training. "We want to excel," he says. "The only way to do that is to do a good job at everything we do."

_ _ _

Citizen Soldier: Civil Engineer Rebuilds Iraq's Infrastructure

Civil engineering plays an important role in both civilian and military sectors. Sgt. Brian Freeman knows both sides: he worked as a Civil Engineer at ITT Gilfillan Division in Van Nuys, California before being deployed with the 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT). The combination of his civilian and military experience make Freeman a priceless asset for the Task Force (TF) 185th Armored Battalion as he works to make life better for the people of Iraq.

Prior to joining the Army National Guard, Freeman was an Air Force officer for nine and a half years. While in the Air Force, he completed his Masters Degree in Environmental Management from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Freeman joined Alpha Company TF 185 during the mobilization process and became an assistant squad leader. Knowing his skill and experience far exceeded his position, 1st Sgt Langstor brought Freeman's resume to the Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Sayers. Sayers immediately wanted Freeman to work for him. "Freeman is an invaluable asset for our Task Force," said Sayers. "We needed to take advantage of his talents and skills."

Overnight, Freeman became the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Civil Affairs, the Garrison Engineer for Scania, and the Field Ordering Officer.

Mixing Civil Affairs with civil engineering is nothing new for Freeman, who in 1994 worked with the United Nations' headquarters in Croatia. According to Freeman, civil engineering is similar regardless of location. He says, "Managing complex systems and interdisciplinary groups is all the same whether you are constructing buildings or radar systems."

Now Freeman works with local Iraqi national tribes, who have taken him under their wing. Safety of the U.S. soldiers is ensured by a local Sheik who serves as the area's formal government. The Sheik's family has a long-standing history of positive relations with military personnel.

Thanks to the local protection, Freeman and his team enjoy a fairly secure environment. Freeman aims to maintain and enhance this relationship while accomplishing his overall project goals.

Many of Freeman's projects are standard for Civil Affairs workers. He and his team build schools, fix roads and repair infrastructures. One nearby town, Ash Shumali, has a serious problem with its drainage system, which Freeman plans to restore. The project, which will keep the town and its surrounding areas dry, will benefit U.S. soldiers as well as the local residents.

The local population is also short on things many Americans would take for granted, such as fresh water and electricity. Freeman admits, "We can't do everything for them, but if we can at least provide a good assessment of what they do have, it will establish an invaluable aid to local planners for future planning." Some of the projects are too big for Freeman and his team to accomplish this year, but his work will have a long-term effect on the community by starting the ball rolling toward progress.

Freeman brings many skills into this deployment, including his ability to be creative and flexible. Among the challenges he faces are shortages of material resources and skilled workers. Communicating with the local national workers about technical details also proves difficult. Despite the hurdles, Freeman says, "I feel like I'm accomplishing things. There's always a good feeling when you are helping people to reestablish themselves and assume their presence in the modern world."

Freeman's biggest challenge is time. He has to prioritize his projects so that he is able to achieve the maximum number of improvements during his relatively short stay in Iraq. Freeman explains his overall focus by looking to the future. "I'm a 'big picture' guy, I'm used as a town engineer and the end result is to help them," he says.

Freeman undertakes large projects in his Civil Affairs position, but his job as his battalion's General Technology Consultant involves helping people on a smaller level. Freeman says, "Most Guardsmen have personal equipment and need a lot of help figuring out why their SAT phone won't work or why their MP3 player won't work on CDs."

As a civilian, Freeman lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his wife and two children, a five-year-old girl Cassandra and a nineteen-month-old son, Harold.

Deployment always means personal sacrifice, especially when children are involved. Freeman misses his family, but feels this deployment is necessary and Iraq is where he is supposed to be. He says, "(It) disrupts life, but this is extremely important and I'd rather be here doing this than not doing it."

_ _ _

Act of Heroism: California National Guardsman soldier saves a life

It started out like any other day at Forward Operating Base Scania for Spc. Kevin Halverson, a highly motivated Combat Medic assigned to the Scout Platoon, of Headquarters Company of the Task Force 1-185th Armor Battalion.

Things were about to change, though. "I had just come into the DFAC (dining facility), where I joined fellow Scout Platoon members for a bite of dinner." states Halverson. "No sooner had I set my food down, when a guy yells out, 'He's choking, he's choking, does any one know the Heimlich maneuver?'"

As his adrenaline went into overdrive, instincts kicked in for this experienced Combat Medic. Halverson successfully executed the Heimlich maneuver, saving Sgt Collins's life. Looking back, Halverson reflects, "Without hesitating, I just did it. I am a medic, you jump into action, that's what you do."

By definition, the Heimlich maneuver is a series of under-the-diaphragm abdominal thrusts. It is recommended for helping a person who is choking on a foreign object such as food, water or any other foreign-body airway obstruction. By compressing the diaphragm, air forces the obstruction to the air way.

Dr. Henry Heimlich is credited as the originator of the now infamous, Heimlich maneuver. Heimlich is also credited as having saved more lives in America due to the Heimlich maneuver, than any other individual with the numbers exceeding 50,000 saved lives from choking and drowning.

Today Halverson is among those Americans who have saved a life utilizing Dr. Heimlich's proven method. When asked how it feels to save a human life, Halverson humbly replied, "It's not a big deal, it is my job."

Despite his modesty, Halverson has joined the hero ranks of the 81st BCT.

Halverson, like so many other California Army National Guard troops, is a Citizen Soldier who received his call to arms on November 15, 2003, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

Prior to mobilization, Halverson worked as an Emergency Medical Technician with the American Medical Response Company, in Banning, California. He lives in the Banning area with his wife Francesca and fifteen-month-old daughter, Brenna.

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World