Monticello native assigned to 155th Infantry Battalion

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

A Lawrence County sheriff’s investigator working with the Iraqipolice force says his duties there are more like working withAmerican law enforcement officers than many people may believe.

David Sanders, of Monticello, is assigned to the 155th InfantryBattalion of the 155th Brigade Combat Team. His mission over thepast few months has been to assist the Iraqi police withpatrolling, locating improvised explosive devices (or IEDs) andidentifying insurgents.

Sanders has worked with the sheriff’s department since 1999 andholds the rank of staff sergeant in the Mississippi Army NationalGuard.

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Sanders recently answered questions about his service in Iraqthrough e-mail. He also provided a glimpse into his tour in Iraqvia his daily journal entries as well as through e-mails sent tohis girlfriend, Missy Boyd, of Monticello.

“I’ve been working with the IPs (Iraqi police) in Iraq for a fewmonths now, and I’ve grown fond of a few of them,” he said.”Granted, there are a few bad apples, but they are slowly beingwashed out.”

Much of Sanders’ time has been spent assisting and trainingIraqi police officers.

“The cops here are not like cops in the U.S. They are more likejailers,” he said. “Under Saddam, the army was the one (that madearrests), and the cops kept up with the jails. They are havingtrouble getting used to the whole ‘law enforcement’ thing. Somecan’t read Arabic or English.”

Sanders has assisted IPs at several police stations and said thestations are generally all the same.

“The building is two floors with access to the roof. On theroof, there are two (machine guns) that are manned 24 hours.Downstairs are the jail and offices. Upstairs are more offices thathave been changed into sleeping quarters for up to 36 men,” hesaid.

Police patrols in Iraq have very little in common with policepatrols in the U.S., he said, noting that police work in thefledgling democracy is often extremely hazardous.

Most of the police missions there, Sanders said, are respondingto sightings of IEDs or searching for them.

Despite the dangerous nature of the missions, soldiers are oftenamused by some of the things they see. Stress does funny things topeople, Sanders said. Morbid or worrisome events are often maskedby humor.

“We stopped to talk to some kids and asked them about bad guysand explosives. They got excited and took us to a place just out oftown by a canal where we found hundreds of foot-long, 2-inch-wideanti-aircraft shells. Some were empty, and some were just warheads.A few looked brand new,” he said.

“At one point, a kid brought Goodman two good high-explosiverounds and (fellow soldier) Goodman’s reaction was ‘Oh,(expletive)!’ Sanders recalled. “He collected four rounds thatcould be used as bombs and threw them in the water. I found about20 warheads that had been pulled out of their shells. I … startedtossing them into the water, too. Well, these kids, ages 13 anddown, helped me out and were saying ‘Oh, (expletive)!’ when theypicked up each warhead.”

Other missions, however, are more reactionary, Sanders said.Sometimes the first indication soldiers have that a bomb may benearby is when it goes off.

“The IPs found out about a plan to bomb a mosque and found thecar about a hundred yards from the station. They shot the tires outbecause it wouldn’t stop,” he said. “They apparently surrounded itbecause when it blew, it killed two cops instantly. A woman and alittle girl were walking down the sidewalk when all this tookplace. The woman lost both legs and the arm that was holding thegirl.”

The girl was killed.

“Three more cops died later,” he continued. “One was a guy thatused to throw a football with some of us on the roof (of the policestation). He was on the SWAT team. The only thing left of thebomber’s car was the front part of the frame. It was about 20 feetfrom the crater. The IPs told me that the driver was about 12 yearsold.”

Hampering the IPs’ progress toward self-sufficiency, Sanderssaid, is a lack of needed supplies. The United States has suppliedthe Iraqi police with body armor and 9mm Glock 19 pistols, but thepistols must carried in their pockets because the officers don’thave holsters.

Japan has given some patrol cars to the Iraq police, Sanderssaid.

“They don’t have any flashlights. They have to use theheadlights of the cars or the street lights when working in thedark,” he said.

The most pressing needs are handcuffs and flashlights, Sanderssaid, explaining that each pair of handcuffs is shared by aboutfour police offers.

“These things the IPs need, they can’t afford,” he said.

The IPs also need more expensive gear such as binoculars andtelescoping batons, he said.

Sanders said he is concerned about the future welfare of theIPs. He worries the force will not have the equipment to do its jobproperly when the United States pulls out of Iraq.

“I am trying to gather the equipment they need,” he said. “Theyalready know how to use it. We’ve taught them that.”

Boyd, Sanders girlfriend, said he asked her to purchase at leastfour pairs of handcuffs he can give the IPs. She said he willprobably not be reimbursed for the purchase. He also asked her topurchase some flashlights.

“Those are two of the most inexpensive things we can buy, but,bless his heart, he can’t supply the whole Iraqi police force,” shesaid.

Boyd said she has considered, at Sanders’ request, starting adrive for donations of items needed by Iraqi police but doesn’twant to do it alone. At the moment, she said, she has no plans tostart a drive.

Despite the equipment shortcomings, the IPs have it better nowthan before the U.S. freed them from Saddam’s tyranny, Sanderssaid. He described the case of an IP named Mohammed.

“He told me that he was a cop under Saddam but likes it betternow,” Sanders said. “He was proud of the fact that he once had onlyone pair of pants and one shirt to make a uniform and now has sixpants, 11 shirts, a pistol that works and a coat with ‘POLICE’ onthe back written in English and Arabic.

“He stood on the roof for about an hour or so and when I wasn’ttalking to him, he was scanning the town (with binoculars). I thinkhe is one of the few that takes his job seriously,” he said.

A few days later, Mohammed proved his worth as an IP, Sanderssaid, when he led soldiers to a bomb.

“He came into the command post and pointed at my pocket where Ikeep the visual aid cards. He seemed nervous or upset,” Sanderssaid. “After about 20 minutes of using the aid cards and himdrawing a map, I figured out that his uncle was on top of abuilding next to a road where someone had set a bomb.”

The bomb was disarmed, but the man who set it was never found,Sanders said.