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Al Qaeda Hates Fruit

Long Days and Nights for Paratroopers in Iraq


Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Applegate of Bradenton, Fla., and Spc. Zachry King of Jacksonville, Fla., both with B Co, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, try to pinpoint the direction of sniper fire they were receiving while on patrol in the Al Beida neighborhood of Baghdad's Adhamiyah District April 22. Phot by Sgt. Michael Pryor, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.

This story was filed by Sergeant Pryor about five minutes ago about a fight on the 22nd of April:

Action Never Stops for Paratroopers at COP Ford

By Sgt. Mike Pryor
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
BAGHDAD – Sniper fire sent Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Applegate ducking for cover behind a stack of old, rusted air conditioners. As Applegate scanned the rooftops for the shooter, a young boy came pedaling up on a bicycle.
“Get out of here, kid,” Applegate warned.
“Bomb,” the boy said, pointing down the street he had just come from.
“Great,” Applegate muttered. “Wait here,” he told the boy as he ducked around a corner to find his interpreter.
Applegate’s platoon had begun the day by investigating a storage yard full of suspicious chlorine drums. Then they were pinned down by a sniper attack. Now they had a bomb to worry about. And they had only been on patrol for an hour.
It was just another typical day for paratroopers based at Combat Outpost Ford, in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah District... 

Since the paratroopers from 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment occupied the COP in late February, the tempo of operations has been relentless. The base is located in the Al Beida area, just south of Sadr City. As allies of the legitimate government, the paratroopers pose a threat to the illegal militia dominance. As the paratroopers have pushed out into the area, cracking down on illegal activity, the militias have responded with attacks.
Confrontations can come at any time.
“You never really know what to expect. It’s the same as riding a roller coaster. It’s an adrenalin rush,” said Spc. Zachry King, from Jacksonville, Fla.
The wild day COP Ford experienced April 22 was a good illustration of what the paratroopers are facing on a daily basis.
Back at the scene of the sniper attack, Applegate brought his interpreter - a tall, gangly Iraqi nicknamed ‘Fox’ - over to find out what the boy was talking about. The boy said he had seen men planting a bomb on the road near a mosque just down the street. The 2nd Platoon mounted up to investigate.
“Smells like an ambush,” King said cheerfully, as he headed for his truck.
The platoon moved cautiously once they reached the mosque. They made a slow circuit around the building. Men in cafes across the street looked on with amusement.
“Seen any bombs?” one of the paratroopers asked them.
No one offered any information, and a thorough search of the area failed to turn up any explosive devices. Platoon leader 1st Lt. Paul Benfield, of Old Town, Fla., decided to call off the hunt.
Next, the platoon headed back to the chlorine storage yard to get a picture of the spot where the sniper’s bullet had impacted. They reached the site, but no sooner had they dismounted than an urgent call came in on the radio. COP Ford had just come under attack.
The paratroopers jumped back in their humvees and sped off in the direction of the COP. A siren on the lead truck wailed as the trucks pushed their way through on-coming traffic. Inside Benfield’s vehicle, the radio crackled as details about the attack started to come in. Apparently, a man had approached one of the access gates of the COP pushing a rocket launcher disguised as a wheeled fruit stand. When he was close enough, the man ditched the fruit, fired the rocket, and fled the scene.
Thankfully, the rocket had been stopped by protective concrete barriers around the COP.  No one had been hurt.
The attacker had fired his rocket from directly in front of a corner candy shop. When 2nd Platoon arrived on the scene, they went to question the shop owners.
They pulled up in front of the shop and ordered everyone out. Though the attack had occurred in plain view, no one inside the shop claimed to know anything. The paratroopers were skeptical.
“If someone walked in front of me pushing a cart full of bananas that transformed into a rocket launcher, I’d probably remember that,” said Sgt. Patrick Donlan, of Canaioharie, N.Y.
Benfield got a description of a car seen speeding away from the scene of the attack. The platoon spent the next hour circling around the neighborhood, checking out every car that matched the description. Nothing turned up. It looked like the attacker had fled the area.
It was late afternoon when the paratroopers returned to base. King and some others went straight back to their bunks to catch up on sleep.
Less than an hour later, King was jarred out of a deep sleep by the sounds of two huge explosions rattling the base. At first, it seemed the COP had been hit again, but the sounds turned out to have come from rockets passing directly overhead.
Capt. Dennis Marshall, of Hinckley, Ohio commands Company D. He was inside the operations center, hunched over a radio, trying to determine the point of origin of the rockets.
“Get me a POO (Point of Origin)!” he yelled.
King, meanwhile, had rolled over and gone back to sleep.
“That’s how tired I was,” he said.
Later, Delta Company’s 3rd Platoon retrieved the two abandoned launchers from a lot less than half a mile from the COP. They left the launchers in the courtyard of the COP, where Spc. Charles Tisdale and Spc. David Higuera were debating if the rockets had been aimed at them. Then someone came out and told them that the rockets had impacted miles away, in the Green Zone.
“Well, I guess they weren’t aiming at us,” said Higuera, of Phoenix. “Or if they were, they’re really bad shots.”
After grabbing a quick bite, meals ready-to-eat, or MREs, 2nd Platoon was back out on the streets. Their next mission was to give a condolence payment to a local man who had been accidentally hit by shotgun shrapnel during a door breach.
The man was propped up on a bed in his living room, his right leg in a cast. He had kept some of the buckshot in a wad of tissue paper. He showed it to the paratroopers, then quietly asked Fox a question. The interpreter translated it for Benfield.
“He wants to know if there is poison inside,” he said.
“No, there is no poison,” assured Benfield.
“Where do they hear this stuff?” wondered Applegate.
Benfield counted out the cash as the man’s family looked on. They smiled happily.
By this point, it was getting close to midnight. 2nd Platoon had been on the move for almost 14 hours. But their night wasn’t over yet.
On their way back to base, they passed a house they had raided several days earlier. The target hadn’t been home then. Now there was a car parked in front. They didn’t want to let the man slip through the net again.
They stacked up outside the front gate. King lowered his shoulder and rammed his way through two locked doors, and the paratroopers burst into the house. They searched it up and down, but again, the target wasn’t home. A neighbor told them he had fled to Basra.
The paratroopers returned to base. They threw their body armor and helmets down and peeled off their shirts and socks, soaked with sweat. Some went out to the courtyard to rehash the day over cigarettes.
Soon, most drifted back to their bunks. They needed the sleep. It had been a long day, and who knew what tomorrow would be like?
That’s how it is on a roller-coaster ride.