| Keeping the peace in the streets
Story and photos by Pfc. Brandon Aird
The residential areas in Kirkuk, Iraq, aren’t the safest places to live. It’s not unusual for a resident to walk around with prayer beads in one hand and a fully loaded AK-47 in the other.
That’s changing with the help of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry Regiment.
Charlie Company along with 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, is helping the 503rd bring law and order to citizens of Kirkuk.
Located in a deserted Baath Party Compound, Charlie Company is helping build a Kirkuk Police Force in their area of operation.
“They just need a little help to get their feet off the ground,” said Col. Bill Mayville, 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Commander.
Charlie Company is conducting patrols in their sector 24 hours a day. Rotating squads in and out of the compound for rest and downtime.
By building up a local police force and taking police officers out on patrols, Charlie Company is helping build the credibility and respect of the Kirkuk Police Force, which has a reputation of deceit and corruption.
“ It’s a big challenge to gain the trust of and respect of local residents after years of corruption under the Saddam Regime,” said Mayville.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is issuing police badges and setting the standard for police uniforms to help keep people from impersonating police officers, and conducting criminal activities.
When asked about Kirkuk Police Force, Capt. William Jacobs, Charlie Companies Commander, said, “At the moment, they don’t have anything.”
Since the beginning of the war, looting and pillaging in Kirkuk has left the police force with next to nothing.
Charlie Company is giving classes to police officers in the following areas: tactical check point, snap check point, first aid, recon patrol, surveillance, and mines. The classes will provide police officers a secure approach for preventing crime in their area of operation.
The money used to pay the police is currently trapped in a bank, locked in a broken vault, said Jacobs. Looters attempting to steal the money broke the combination dial used to open the vault.
Charlie Company is helping out the police force until the money can be retrieved.
“The other night (May 7) we confiscated a semi truck with brand new 81mm mortar systems, AK47s and mortar rounds,” said 1st Sgt. Toby Boland, the highest-ranking non commissioned officer in Charlie Company. “The guy driving the truck told my boys the trailer only contained rice and flour, but when they opened it up they saw all the weapons.”
Charlie Company downloaded the rice and flour and took the semi to Kirkuk Military Airfield.
“ We’re giving the rice and flour to our police officers and our interpreters,” said Boland. Each police officer and interpreter received a 50lb bag of rice for his family.
Charlie Company has come across a lot of different problems and situations among police and residence, explained Boland. Some of the problems are further complicated by ethnic discrimination among local ethnic groups.
Boland meets with police on a daily basis to find out any problems the police are having.
“ Residents are being evicted out of their homes by criminals claiming to be working for coalition forces,” said Jacobs. “That kind of stuff isn’t going to be happing in my sector.”
One of the more disturbing incidents involved a family that was murdered. Charlie Company didn’t find out about the murder until the following day May 2.
“Almost the whole family was murdered: husband, both wives, including one that was nine months pregnant,” said Jacobs. “They even shot a two year old boy, but he was taken to the hospital by relatives and survived.”
With a sad look on his face, Cpl. John F. Wicks, a medic in Charlie Company said, “You know what’s really sick? The pregnant lady was tortured before she was killed.”
“ Its not something you never ever want to see” said Jacobs. “I wish my boys could’ve caught the guys who did it.”
Charlie Company is helping out with Kirkuk’s crime problem. With the help of police officers and local residence the streets may again be a safe place to live. Residences are already stepping up to the plate by having local neighborhood watch programs, and setting up roadblocks at night to deter thieves.
“Hopefully with my boys and police patrolling the streets day and night,” said Jacobs, “We’ll be able to stop some of the crime.”
“ It’s a step in the right direction,” said Mayville. “But it’s a long walk.”