- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

BAGHDAD. — “If you don’t like kids, you are not going to enjoy this,” Sgt. Philip Lorino, 27, from Birmingham, Ala., told Staff Sgt. Esperidion Jaramillo, 40, from Maui, Hawaii, and Sgt. Jayson Ronneberg, 30, from Seattle.

The kids were everywhere. They swarmed the sentry posts, and around Humvees on patrol when they paused, grinning and waving and giving the thumbs-up sign. They ask soldiers their names, and asked them to play soccer.

“The kids will just eat you alive,” Sgt. Lorino emphasized, after teasing with a group of eight who surrounded the Humvee in which he and Sgt. Jaramillo were riding. “It’s a good thing school has started up again.” But it was clear he took pleasure in amusing the children.

Sgt. Lorino is a squad leader in A Co., 3/7 Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division.

Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg are squad leaders in C Co., 1/6 Infantry, 1st Armored Division, which is taking over responsibility for A 3/7 in the Karradah neighborhood of downtown Baghdad.

One of the most diverse neighborhoods in Baghdad, Karradah is essentially a peninsula formed by a bend of the Tigris. Nearly half the people in the district are Christians. About 30 percent are Sunni Muslims, 20 percent are Shi’ite Muslims. There is a commercial district where virtually anything from whiskey to bananas to satellite TVs can be purchased, but most of the area is residential. The residential areas range from upper-middle class to poor.

Sgt. Lorino’s platoon is encamped in a small hotel in the heart of the district, across the street from the St. Raphael Hospital, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church another block over. The platoon to which Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg belong will take it over once the 3rd ID leaves for home in a week or so.

Sgts. Lorino, Jaramillo and Ronneberg were on what the Army calls a “right seat ride.”

They were patrolling through the neighborhood, with Lorino showing Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg the boundaries of the company’s area of operations, and the key facilities and landmarks within it.

Later, Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg will take Sgt. Lorino on a “left seat side.” The 1st Armored Division soldiers will conduct the mixed patrol with the 3rd ID soldiers, with Sgt. Lorino there to offer advice if the 1st Armored Division soldiers encounter an unfamiliar situation.

They were likely to hear a fair amount of gunfire, Sgt. Lorino told Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg, but most of it is nothing to worry about. “Just about every Iraqi has a gun,” Lorino said. “The Iraqis shoot [into the air] when they are happy. They shoot when they’re sad. They shoot when the [electric] power comes on. They shoot when the power goes off.”

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division told their 1st Armored Division counterparts that they had never been shot at since hostilities ended, but there was a good deal of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Sgt. Lorino pointed out to Sgts. Jaramillo and Ronneberg the site of a multiple homicide that had taken place several days earlier.

Crime syndicates are forming and are fighting for turf, the 3rd ID soldiers said.

“There are so many people [in the Karradah neighborhood], so much territory to cover, it makes it difficult to catch the Ali Babas,” said Spec. Marcus Cole, 22, a 3rd ID soldier from Waynesburg, Pa.

The crime problem aside, Iraqis in the Karradah district have been very friendly with the Americans. Locals are constantly offering soldiers tea and cigarettes, and often bring lunch to the soldiers stationed at Outpost Church, Sgt. Lorino said. “I think I’ve seen a nicer face of Islam, a face I didn’t know about before I came here,” Sgt. Lovino said.

When he saw the dilapidated housing in which many in the Karradah district live, compared with the splendor of Saddam’s palaces across the Tigris, “I felt sad for them,” Sgt. Ronneberg said. “But it was great that the children were so happy to see us.”

He feels more welcome in Iraq than he has in many European countries, Sgt. Ronneberg said. “I’m based in Germany,” he said. “Everywhere I traveled in Europe before the war, there was some kind of demonstration [against the U.S.].”

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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