Vehicles streamed by, neon blurs of yellow and red. Cars, vans, and 18-wheelers alike honked their hellos to the group of paratroopers walking along the dark edge of the highway. Their footfalls came quickly in an attempt to warm their feet, numbed from the cold, until they fell in cadence with the morning Call to Prayer blaring over loudspeakers.
It was barely 5 a.m. and these troopers were already on the streets, their mission to check the route for roadside bombs and ensure the security of the road for U.S. convoys passing through from Baghdad. This was the day Camp Victory was to transition to Iraqi control.
These were not run-of-the-mill infantry Soldiers, but a group of military police paratroopers who have grown familiar with the area they patrol every day.
The MPs assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, had been conducting daily missions in the area since moving to Camp Taji from Al-Asad Air Base in early October.
"We're the only platoon that's rolled out every day since we've been here," said Pfc. Tyler Laflamme, an MP and native of Norwich, Conn.
At Al-Asad, the MPs conducted and oversaw training exercises for local Iraqi Police. Now, their objective was to help ensure the safe passage of U.S. convoys as they travel south through Taji in preparation for the withdrawal of military forces to Kuwait.
"MPs do everything plus some," said Sgt. Michael Drake, a native of Virginia Beach, Va. During this morning's patrol, Drake and his fellow MPs walked along for more than two hours while their armored vehicles made circuits around the area, shining floodlights into dark corners in search of possible roadside bombs. The paratroopers passed by multiple Iraqi army checkpoints during their journey; each tower was manned by one or two Iraqi soldiers, wrapped in thick clothes and huddled around small fires. The troopers waved hello, but ignored the inviting warmth and ventured further into the darkness.
As the sun began to peak over the tops of local buildings, each paratrooper took a knee and watched as dozens of U.S. military vehicles passed by, the 2/82 convoy they were there to protect. These vehicles also honked their horns in appreciation for the soldiers on the ground ensuring their safety.
Normally an infantry platoon would be sent out to conduct such a task, but Staff Sgt. Mark Garber said as paratroopers, conducting this type of mission is fundamental.
"This is a basic skill. Everyone should be able to do this," said the Elizabethtown, Pa., native.
However, he added that his MPs might actually have an advantage over other military specialties when it comes to ensuring the safety of a convoy.
"One of our main jobs as MPs is maneuver and mobility," he added confidently. "Route security is our specialty."
Article by Sgt. Kissta Feldner, 82nd Airborne