LSA ANACONDA, Iraq -- Hardly a day goes by when the soldiers of the 341st Military Police Company don't experience some sort of hostile activity.
"We like to call ourselves 'Combat MPs,' said Sgt. Mark Estes of the 341st, an Army Reserve unit from San Jose, Calf. " What we do keeps us on our toes everyday."
The 341st is tasked with clearing and monitoring the main supply route from Logistical Support Area Anaconda south to the border of the 1st Armor Division's area of responsibility.
What that entails, says Estes, " is being briefed at about 6:30 in the morning and then driving the route to our checkpoint. We look for any hostile activity, enemy personnel, or that looks out of place from previous runs." Estes said once they travel the route and are sure it's clear, they radio back to the convoy commanders and let them know it's safe. But their job doesn't end there.
"After the convoy is clear we stop along the route and wait for trouble," Estes said. "Almost everyday something happens along the route and we need to be close by to react." The "something" Estes said is anything from Improvised Explosive Devices, or IED, to small arms fire or rocket propelled grenade attacks to vehicle break downs.
"The Iraqis know the routes we use and conceal IEDs along this and other supply routes almost everyday," Estes said. "IEDs are one of the biggest problems. They are getting more sophisticated and more deadly. Sometimes you can't even tell if an IED is a piece of debris or what it is."
Enemy personnel have done almost anything imaginable with IEDs, Estes said.
"They'll bury them along the road or hide them under a dead animal on the road," he said. "When we drive the route we try to stay in the middle of the road. Most of the IEDs we have experienced have been to one side or the other. "
If the MPs find something suspicious along the route they radio back to their headquarters and will stop traffic. Stopping traffic along the main supply route, or MSR, is like shoveling sand with a fork. The locals will stop for a short period of time until they become impatient. If traffic doesn't move in short order, they will do anything to get around the blockage.
"Sometimes, if we've stopped traffic for some reason, the Iraqis will cross over into the opposite lane and travel in the wrong direction," Estes said. "What they don't realize is that what we are doing is trying to protect them as well as our soldiers. We don't want anybody hurt. What is sad is that it is their own people causing this."
Spc. Juan Cruz II, Military Policeman, often stands ready on the Squad Attack Weapon, or SAW, in the turret of the HUMVEE. However, Cruz wasn't always traveling the MSR with the patrols.
"My original job for the company is supply specialist," Cruz said. "But we are short handed and need the manpower. So when my first sergeant asked for volunteers, I said yes." According to Cruz, before he ever went on a patrol he was brought up to speed by his fellow Soldiers.
"Doing a patrol is a lot different than sitting in a supply room," Cruz said. "We work as a team and watch each other's backs. Now, I'd rather be on a patrol with my team than doing paper work. Even though it's a little dangerous, it has made the time here go by so much quicker. And I feel like I am making a difference here."
"Not everyday is good," Cruz said. "Some days here are great ? like when we (U.S. Forces) captured Saddam Hussein. Some days are long and others are short. I just try to keep as busy as I can."
Cruz said he looks forward to going home and seeing his family. Cruz received the call he was coming to Iraq one week before his wedding.
"I was mobilized the day after I was married," Cruz said. "When I get time off, I call and talk to my wife. This has been very hard for her. But she's doing okay, especially since she knows when I'll be home."
A good thing, according to Cruz, is that the Iraqi people are starting to change.
"These people are strong," Cruz said. "They just had a bad leader who didn't care about them. They are starting to realize that we are here to help them. Things are always getting better. When we stop on the side of the road and see the smiles on the kid's faces, it's awesome. We know they haven't smiled like that in a long time."