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Airmen establish early warning network with locals

by Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

6/17/2005 - TALLIL AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Instead of relying solely on patrolmen and sensors to analyze the ever-evolving installation defense puzzle, security forces specialists here are using the help of a previously underused weapon system -- word of mouth.

Security forces patrol teams responsible for securing Tallil’s perimeter are enlisting a more hands-on approach through a new program dubbed Operation Kaleidoscope.

“Base defense doesn’t stop at the fence line. There is a whole another biosphere out there,” said Maj. Erik Rundquist, 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron commander.

The 407th ESFS fire patrol teams, who go out in small, heavily armed groups to patrol the base’s border, had previously mapped out about 210 square miles that surrounded the base, Army posts around here and the Italian compound. They knew the land, but until recently, patrolmen said they did not know the people.

In Major Rundquist’s opinion, that was a major disadvantage.

Major Rundquist said he was looking for a way to use the locals’ instincts to protect their families from insurgents when Sam, a Lebanese-American interpreter assigned to Balad Air Base, Iraq, was reassigned here.

With Sam on board, patrol teams go out into the community and meet the locals.

The operation provides locals and patrolmen face-to-face recognition and a phone number to call if either notices anything out of the ordinary or dangerous.

Then Sam takes a snapshot of the area in case the patrolmen need to contact people living there.

“The vast majority of the people I meet are very happy to have been liberated by us,” said Sam, whose full name is withheld for his protection. “Under Saddam’s reign, he treated people badly -- cut off their water supply, knocked down palm trees and turned a once lush marshland into arid desert.

“It tears me up when I come across some of the people,” Sam said. “This one woman lives all alone with her three children. Both her husband and son where killed by a stray rocket during the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“She lives on about $22 a month,” he said. “When she broke down and told me her story, it broke my heart.”

For Sam and the others, visiting some of the locals opens an avenue to help others.

After meeting them, the Airmen relay information to civil affairs Soldiers who work to rebuild area schools and hospitals.

A few locals have used the telephone number to contact patrolmen here to report suspicious and criminal activity, or drive-by shootings around the base. One man even walked miles to report several kidnappings of locals in the area.

After 407th ESFS Airmen receive a call, they alert specific organizations within the group who can help solve the particular problem. They also contact Italian soldiers who are responsible for controlling the region’s overall security.

But the biggest reward for the Airmen is taking little everyday necessities, like baby wipes, diapers and candy, to the locals, they said.

“I feel like I’m accomplishing something when I meet the (local) people -- like I’ve donated my time to others,” said Senior Airman Erin Lannaman, of the 407th ESFS patrol team.

War has sucked the area dry, but through another 407th ESFS program called Operation Reach Out, Airmen here get to distribute clothes and shoes to locals. And now, base leaders are better informed on where critical resources are needed in the community.

“There are so many different facets to consider,” Major Rundquist said. “Operation Kaleidoscope brings all the information into a center focal point kind of like a kaleidoscope itself, hence the name.”

Although the operation provides plenty of inspiration and breaks the boredom of long days being restricted to base, it is no picnic either.

The heavily armed crews dressed in full body armor convoy out into the blistering desert in armored Humvees designed more for safety than comfort.

Sitting ramrod-straight in their seats, the engine blasts out what feels like 160 degrees slamming into the passengers’ faces. The windows only open a sliver to let in air and reduce the potential of a stray bullet.

Then there is the eerie, relentless noise of the engine that sounds like a banshee screaming in the wind anytime the driver accelerates.

However, patrolmen do not normally have the luxury of traveling at higher speeds. Most of their day is spent plodding through ditches and ravines that violently jostle passengers.

This is their office for six to 12 hour days -- no coffee makers or microwaves included. Then there are also nature’s buddies to contend with.

“In early May, you would stretch out your arm, and there would be about 100 flies on one arm,” said Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Aliff, 407th ESFS security forces manager deployed from the Ohio Air National Guard. “It was a miserable, miserable experience.”

But for most patrolmen, it is just another day on the job collecting and analyzing data that could save their and other servicemembers’ lives.

Before, the patrol teams were in the dark about how the locals lived and reacted to the patrols. Now, they ask questions that foster a better understanding between both worlds.

“One thing I didn’t know is that they will sleep on the rooftops to catch the cool breeze,” Chief Aliff said. “If we hear gunshots coming from a roof at night, we know from past experience now that they are shooting to scare away jackals and not at us.”

Regardless of the risk, most of the patrolmen said they would not trade the experience for a less dangerous job.

“We are making history in my career field because no one else does this,” said Senior Airman Chris Brown, a 407th ESFS fire team gunner, referring to Operation Kaleidoscope.

“It’s hot and stressful being here away from family, but you see these kids here … It makes you feel good about what you do, and you know you’re making a difference,” Airman Brown said.

Although Major Rundquist jokingly said Operation Kaleidoscope sounds like a security defense science project gone awry, he said he wants the locals to understand they are all on the same team.

Major Rundquist said patrolling the area surrounding the base is nothing new in the security forces realm of protection operations. What they do now just capitalizes on current practices.

“They have had patrols out there for the last year and a half driving by these people and looking at them as part of the environment. I see them as part of the defense solution,” Major Rundquist said.

As the commander charged with the perimeter security of U.S. servicemembers and coalition forces assigned to the installation, Major Rundquist said he knows the biggest threat is the unknown outside the gate.

“This is their land, and it’s constantly evolving, and that (affects) the way my people operate,” he said. “Operation Kaleidoscope provides the group commander with a clear tactical picture of who lives and travels through this area, and who is suspicious or dangerous. Overall, it’s a safer base because of the program.”

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