On Patrol in Iraq: Protecting Camp Victory Security is paramount at Camp Victory, a U.S. base in Iraq, because of its proximity to Baghdad International Airport. Humvee-mounted soldiers patrol the nearby farms and towns around the clock.
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On Patrol in Iraq: Protecting Camp Victory

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On Patrol in Iraq: Protecting Camp Victory

On Patrol in Iraq: Protecting Camp Victory

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The U.S. base known as Camp Victory sits close to Baghdad International Airport. So the military puts a lot of effort into security there. Soldiers in Humvees patrol nearby farms and towns around the clock.

NPR's John McChesney went on a patrol with Alpha Company of the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Combat Brigade team.

Unidentified Man: One-zero, four Victors, one-nine...

JOHN McCHESNEY: The lead victor, or Humvee, radios for clearance as the four-Humvee patrol drives off Camp Victory into the countryside. The temperature was 110. The heavily-armored vehicle had been baking in the sun for hours and a feeble air conditioner is on the fritz. Under body armor and helmets, everyone is soaked within the first few minutes of a four-hour drive.

It's not long though before we stop. Major Chris Heathscott explains the stop.

Major CHRIS HEATHSCOTT (Camp Victory Patrol): Because they heard gunfire in the area early, so they just want to stop by there and check. That's the SOI, the Sons of Iraq checkpoint, so we just wanted to stop and see if they knew what was going on.

McCHESNEY: This checkpoint is pitiful, small coils of barbed wire that could easily be run over, a shanty, and a few Iraqis without military gear. The Sons of Iraq are paid by the Americans well above the local income level, in an attempt to keep a friendly populous around the base. This is ideal IED country, and just last week the outfit found one.

Soon we stop in a small village. Everyone dismounts and spreads out. Lieutenant Jason Withworth(ph) explains what's going on.

Lieutenant JASON WITHWORTH (Camp Victory Patrol): We're just doing a plain house assessment. Brother, can we have all the male occupants to come out and the females, please? And is there any weapons in there?

McCHESNEY: Kids and other men have lined up along the street to see what's happening.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

McCHESNEY: The home owner's shouts instructions, and the soldiers, gun muzzles pointed down, enter along a sidewalk into a pleasant courtyard with a few fruit trees, green amidst unrelieved brown. The soldiers searched the house while others watched warily. Then, reading from a list, Lieutenant Withworth questions the oldest man of the house through an interpreter.

Lt. WITHWORTH: And sir, how long have you lived here?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: He born here before a long time go; he live here.

Lt. WITHWORTH: Okay, and how many male occupants live in this home here?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: Three.

Lt. WITHWORTH: And how many female?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

McCHESNEY: After some confusion, the answer is three.

Lt. WITHWORTH: And where do you work at, sir?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: Farmer.

Lt. WITHWORTH: And do you feel threatened living in this area?

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: No.

McCHESNEY: Then there are questions about travel outside the area by anyone in the house. How many weapons, how many magazines, names of other males. It's an exhaustive list, just like a census.

Another soldier has brought out a black box and tells one man to peel back his eyelid while he takes a scan of his retina. Then the man has to place each of his fingers on the box for a print. The elder man, Akhmed Jasin(ph), his arm in a sling from a car accident, is subdued but cooperative.

Lt. WITHWORTH: So how do you feel about these Americans coming in and asking you all these questions? Taking pictures of your eyes and your fingerprints and all; how do you feel about that?

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

Mr. AKHMED JASIN: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: He says something - no big deal, it's okay. They do it all the time.

Lt. WITHWORTH: It doesn't make you angry?

Mr. JASIN: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man #2: No, doesn't make him angry.

McCHESNEY: Someone brings in a case of bottled water and places it in the courtyard. Again, Major Heathscott.

Maj. HEATHSCOTT: We give them water or something to - basically saying it's okay to be here, you know, we're sorry to have (unintelligible) intrude in your house, but we try to give them, offer them water or something to say we're sorry, basically.

(Soundbite of Humvee)

McCHESNEY: We trundle off down the rutted road in our Humvee ovens. And as we pass another Sons of Iraq checkpoint, a small old man runs out and waves us down. The radio crackles.

(Soundbite of radio)

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

McCHESNEY: The old man says men at the checkpoint saw a man with a flashlight last night down in one of the irrigation ditches. It leads the squad down a deep trench on foot. They find some empty shells from an old Iraqi anti-aircraft position. But it's possible the man with a flashlight had found some unexploded shells. As we rumble back to cool off and dry out, the men talk worriedly about that possibility.

John McChesney, NPR News, Camp Victory, Iraq.

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