Local soldiers on the job in Iraq
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – If a top general or high-ranking dignitary needs to go from one place to another in central Iraq, chances are a special detachment of soldiers gets them there.
The personal security detachment from Company Golf, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command boasts one of the most important, and low-key, missions in Iraq.
The small unit — consisting of Idaho soldiers from places like Boise, Pocatello and Blackfoot — is commissioned to escort and protect high-level officers and civilians as they move around the central part of Iraq.
“Our responsibility is the protection of some very important people,” said 1st Lt. Adam Rios, a Pocatello resident.
As the commander of the PSD, Rios said his unit decided to secure a high standard of excellence when it arrived in Iraq in December.
“We set the bar really high when we got here,” Rios said.
Rios said the PSD role was a new one for his soldiers when they began mobilization training at Camp Shelby, Miss., last fall.
“The training was the hardest part,” he said. “No one else was doing it and we had to research a lot. It was up to leadership to define things.”
The mission tempo for the PSD in Iraq is one of feast or famine. The unit can spend many days out on the road escorting a high-ranking official, then hit periods of downtime.
“You’ll have nothing going on and then be packed for four or five days,” Rios said.
The PSD’s operational tempo has steadily increased since it arrived in Iraq, Rios said.
“We average 2.6 missions a week,” he said. “We visit multiple [forward operating bases]. We’ve had a total of five multi-day missions.”
The PSD, though, doesn’t just escort dignitaries and top officers on tours of Iraq. When a high-ranking American official must meet with his or her Iraqi counterpart for a key meeting, the PSD must ensure they get there safe and on time.
“It is battlefield circulation and we make sure that happens,” said Staff Sgt. John Hallenberger of Boise.
The role of the PSD is critical, because travel by plane or helicopter is not always guaranteed, Hallenberger said.
“There is a lot of dust here and dust will ground the [helicopters],” he said. “They do try to use air, but it isn’t as reliable as we are.”
That reliability is a key asset of the PSD. The PSD must adhere to the same standard of operation as any other unit, Hallenberger said.
“We have the same responsibility as anyone else,” he added.
Sgt. Mike Main, a soldier from Blackfoot made his way to the PSD and Iraq after previously serving in the Marine Corps and going to Afghanistan with the Army.
Main said the death of a friend in Iraq sparked his decision to re-enter the military and deploy.
“I decided I wasn’t too old to chip in and participate,” Main said.
He said the PSD has evolved into a solid unit since its arrival in Iraq.
“As a team we are very competent in getting our passengers to where they need to go and get there safely,” Main said. “We’re knowledgeable, well-trained and able to work well together.”