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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Concrete Barriers Safeguard Adhamiyah Residents in Baghdad

By 2nd Brigade Combat Team
82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs

BAGHDAD — The thick chains attaching the “T-Wall” barrier to the crane shuddered as the slab of heavy concrete was lifted into the air. The crane operator worked his control stick, first swinging the barrier through the air, and then slowly lowering it into place.

As the 14,000 pounds of concrete settled onto the ground with a grinding crunch, the project to secure a neighborhood in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah District behind miles of protective barriers came to an end in the darkness of early morning on May 28.

The project, overseen by the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, involved placing temporary barriers and checkpoints around a three-mile area of Adhamiyah in order to protect the local populace from attacks by insurgents.

“This was our biggest project to date,” said Lt. Eric Brumfield, of Visalia, Calif., a platoon leader with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s 407th Support Battalion, which oversaw the project’s construction. “It was a massive undertaking.”

Almost every night for two months, paratroopers from the 407th battalion left their base and convoyed to Adhamiyah, putting in as many as 70 of the huge barriers each night alongside the main road ringing the neighborhood.

“It was probably more labor intensive than anything we’ve done,” said Capt. Priscilla Smoot, of Miami, the commander of Company A, which did the majority of the work for the project.

Brumfield said he was shocked to read early media reports criticizing the project as a Berlin Wall-like partition dividing neighbor from neighbor. In reality, the wall was a simple security measure, he said.

“It’s just like driving at home where you have barriers beside the highway. It’s no different than that,” he said.

In some sections, the project simply improved on roadblocks that residents had already emplaced themselves, said 1st Lt. Jacob Allen, of New Kent, Va., a platoon leader with Company A. Allen also pointed out that the wall hasn’t restricted foot movement at all in the area.

“There are plenty of places to walk. What this has blocked off is movement of (vehicle-borne) explosives,” he said.

Brumfield said that despite the criticism of the project, his paratroopers are proud of what they accomplished.

“We’re exhausted. We’re tired of seeing the wall every night. But in the end, we did it. We were able to fight through the IEDs and the publicity and everything else and get it done,” Brumfield said.

“Now it’s time to step back and start looking at the statistics. We have to let time tell if it’s going to work,” he said.

So far, the results have been positive. Killings are down 61 percent in Adhamiyah between the beginning of April, when construction began, and May 28, when it ended, according to reports compiled by the 2nd BCT.

“Since we started building the wall, we’ve already seen a noticeable decrease in violence,” said Capt. Jared Purcell, of Lake Orion, Mich., the public affairs officer for 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, whose unit operates in the area. Purcell said his unit will continue to closely track the effects of the safe neighborhood project.

“We will be in the community with an ear open as to how people feel about the wall, as well as how it is improving security,” Purcell said. “We’re constantly going to be re-evaluating the wall to make sure it is providing maximum security with minimum disruptions to people’s lives.”

Photo - Iraqi police commander Lt. Col. Ahmed Abdullah, an interpreter, and 1st Sgt. Phong Tran of Richmond, Va., survey a section of the protective wall being installed in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah District as part of a Safe Neighborhood project during a joint patrol, May 24, 2007. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mike Pryor.

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