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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2005

Troops unscathed despite attacks

 •  Isle soldiers' risky job: Live with, train Iraqis

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Coming from a farming background, Master Sgt. T. Lanky Morrill has an appreciation for the agricultural landscape around Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Iraq.

"Right where we live, in every direction, there are local people trying to scrub out a living growing onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and cantaloupe," the 53-year-old Hawai'i National Guard soldier said.

But that appreciation has to come with suspicion and vigilance.

For the approximately 3,700 soldiers of the 29th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, a month of duty in the country has brought first-hand observations of what the war zone really is like, but luckily, no combat injuries, soldiers said.

"We do have small-arms fire happen, and if you took an area, say, within 20 miles of our base, we probably get three to five small arms fire incidents a day," the He'eiakea man said.

Roadside bombs explode every day, and the base 50 miles north of Baghdad in the so-called Sunni Triangle — where resistance to U.S. efforts has been greatest — experiences one to three brief, but occasionally deadly, mortar attacks a day.

Increasingly, the violence is aimed at Iraqis working with U.S. forces, including those working with Hawai'i soldiers.

"The impact of death does continue to happen," Morrill said by phone from LSA Anaconda. "Luckily, it hasn't hit close to home."

Morrill, the non-commissioned officer in charge of Konohiki Task Force working to train Iraqi soldiers, is among Hawai'i soldiers who travel off base, or, "outside the wire."

Maj. Steve Lai, 43, of Mililani, Task Force Konohiki's logistics officer, convoyed up to Balad from Kuwait over three days.

"When we drove up, there are definitely areas that are more dangerous than others, but generally, it wasn't as dangerous as I thought it would be," he said.

As a security precaution, commanders tell soldiers not to throw candy to children, who always throng at the roadside and often stray into the road when a convoy passes.

"From the people I've come into contact with, and this is mostly the (Iraqi) soldiers, they are really appreciative of us being here, but my gut instinct is they would rather not have us here (long-term)," Lai said.

In the Sunni Arab region where the 29th Brigade operates, "the children are always happy to see us," Lai said. But the soldiers get more of a cold stare from adults.

"They are definitely not smiling and waving to us as we go through the neighborhoods," Lai said.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.