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Security in the 'Triangle of Death'
YUSUFIYAH, Iraq -- For this unit, the third time has to be the charm.
Forty soldiers assigned to 3rd Platoon, 65th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade will spend the next 14 months living and working alongside Iraqi police and other coalition forces at a joint security station in Yusufiyah, a city southwest of Baghdad once plagued by violence.
The outpost sits on a point in the old "triangle of death" and it's twice been taken down by suicide car bombers.
"We must hold this ground," Lt. Col. Frank Rangel, the 720th Military Police Battalion commander, told the platoon during a recent visit.
According to the brigade, soldiers are fanning out in larger numbers to shared duty locations with Iraqi security forces as a way to boost joint patrols, improve community relations and elevate stability in neighborhoods. It also allows military police to be better mentors.
"The building of communities sets the conditions for security. That's what we do," said Col. Mark Spindler, 47, of St. Louis, the 18th Military Police Brigade commander. "We're shaping the environment for success to allow the good guys to come in and enforce the rule of law."
Third Platoon's predecessor, a unit from the 23rd Military Police Company, moved into Yusufiyah's JSS last May. Both companies are from Fort Bragg, N.C.
First Lt. Jonathan Blevins, the outpost's former commander and police transition team chief, said the station is in a central spot, with Sunnis on one side and Shiites on the other.
"It gave us neutral ground between the two factions," said Blevins, 28, of Edwardsville, Ill. "We were able to build a really good rapport with the locals in both areas. And we helped build up the (Iraqi police) as well. The people have a better respect for them now."
Yusufiyah and other towns in the infamous "triangle of death" have become more secure in the last six months, according to Army officials. Keeping them that way is the challenge.
"We've only gone from really bad to bad," Spindler said. "There are still a lot of influential bad guys out there that coalition forces will have to deal with."
Third Platoon arrived at Yusufiyah's JSS in late December. Its ranks include a medic, mechanic and communications specialist.
First Lt. Brian Garver, 26, of Columbus, Ga., the platoon leader, said his unit's focus is squarely on developing Iraqi police and propping up a new $200,000 station for them in Yusufiyah. It was set to open at the end of this month.
"We'll stay here at the JSS, then rotate a squad to the IP station," Garver said. "We have to give 100 percent attention to that station. … We'll be able to do more joint mounted patrols and dismounted patrols with the IPs, and just try to give the public a friendly face.
"It's slowly getting better, and once this IP station kicks off, it'll be amazing what we can do."
Soldiers still pull six-hour shifts in observation points. They do weekly rotations between the roof and police transition team missions.
"Up here, we're the eyes and ears of the station," said Spc. James Dusenbery, 22, of Spokane, Wash.