7115 South Boundary Boulevard
MacDill AFB, Fla. 33621-5101
Phone: (813) 827-5894; FAX: (813) 827-2211; DSN 651-5894

March 5, 2004
Release Number: 04-03-14


1st Armored Division tower guards keep watch over city, comrades

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- From afar, the tower looks simple, quiet and safe.

As the soldiers tread through the wet earth, slowly inching closer to their goal, their boots get heavier with each step from the mud surrounding the base of the tower.

Finally, they're there, almost breathless.

They grasp the metal rail and bang their boots against the first step. Instantly, they're pounds lighter as globs of mud fall from their battle-worn desert boots.

With their weapons slung over their shoulders and their backpack canteens full of water for the long evening, they slowly begin the 30-foot climb to the pinnacle -- to a new world.

Finally, they are on top of one of the tallest guard towers in Baghdad.

Surrounded by steel, mortar and sandbags, the two climbers meet familiar faces -- the guards who have spent the past two hours protecting their portion of Camp Steel Falcon, a Task Force 1st Armored Division forward operating base.

The views from towers nine and 10 are inspiring, overlooking the heart of the Al Rashid district in southern Baghdad.

They command attention as each tower overlooks some of Baghdad's most dangerous roads.

For young soldiers barely out of their teens - or still in them - knowing they are protecting the lives of their fellow soldiers below brings a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond pulling what some consider just a detail.

"It gives me a large amount responsibility for protecting the FOB and the units here," said Pvt. Jenelle Bower, 19, from Pennsylvania. "It makes me feel good that I am doing something important. We have to protect everyone inside or the mission will fail."

For Spc. Antonio Mahoney, 20, from Washington, Ga., working on the towers has been a great experience, he said.

"It's something I never thought I would ever get to do," he said. "I feel important doing this job here because we're actually making it safer for the people in the FOB while we are pulling guard in the tower."

As the sun slowly inches toward the horizon, they know it is only minutes before everything changes.

The rules change for the hostile insurgents colleting intelligence about the operating base.

The rules change for the soldiers as they flip down and activate their night-vision goggles. From black and gray to shades of light and dark greens, they now are able to watch the large sand-barrier wall separating the busy highway from the forward operating base.

"During the day it's easier because you can see a lot more things than at night," said Mahoney. "You have to be more aware of your surroundings and things around you when pulling guard at night."

The night is silent except for the sporadic, awkward honking of automobile horns.

As the soldiers scan the city, they hear the distinctive sounds of AK-47 assault rifle rounds being fired. Just over the building tops, red tracers cut through the black skies, disappearing into the darkness.

The soldiers don't flinch or even react - a sign of a veteran guard on the two forward towers.

"My thoughts are always 'how to react if we were to get shot at,'" Mahoney said. "I always wonder what my reaction is going to be like."

Whether the two soldiers are in towers nine or 10 or stopping and searching vehicles entering FOB Steel Falcon, the guards' positive and brave attitudes ensure that soldiers in their rooms can sleep comfortably knowing their lives are safe because of their comrades keeping watch.

Note to editors: Photo and cutline available by request; see below.



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