Courtesy of Ron-Michael Pellant
Ron-Michael Pellant was stationed at Balad Air Base, 45 minutes north of Baghdad.
Warrant Officer Ron-Michael Pellant recently returned from Iraq after serving as targeting officer for the 34th Infantry Division at Balad Air Base. His duties frequently took him into the surrounding village to meet with locals and check on reconstruction projects.
In the final part of this series on recent returnees from Iraq, Pellant recalls his 15 months at the base, located near the Tigris River in an area rich in grapes and dates and home to a poor farming community.
During his time in Iraq, Pellant got to know the village's mayor, imam, sheikh and farmers, many of whom lived in brick and mud huts and didn't have shoes.
Most of the villagers, he says, welcomed the U.S. military presence.
"I would say that almost everybody we interacted with was glad we were there," Pellant tells Michele Norris. They trusted the [U.S. Army] more than they trust the Iraqi police or the Iraqi army."
Still, Pellant recalls the hostility of some locals toward American troops and bristling sectarian tensions. Construction projects required sensitivity to tribal divisions, with Sunni contractors confined to work in Sunni areas and Shiite contractors doing the same.
Balad Air Base is located about 45 minutes north of Baghdad, but its surrounding area saw frequent roadside explosions and mortar attacks, and Pellant considered it a "war zone."
Yet, staying on base wasn't necessarily stress-free.
"Balad Air Base's nickname was 'Mortaritaville' because we would get hit with mortars and rockets and other indirect fire pretty much constantly," Pellant says.
American troops attract insurgent attacks, Pellant says, but he doesn't believe that a withdrawal will stabilize the area.
"I really feel for the people in that area. It's just a no-win situation in the sense that if the American troops are there, we're going to be a magnet for people to attack us, and if the American troops pull out … I don't think they can protect their assets."