Iraqis were afraid to walk the streets when a U.S. military police company from Fort Lewis arrived 15 months ago.
• Photos: 571st Military Police Company welcomed home
Now, Iraqis patrol and keep order on their own streets, with the assistance of the U.S. military, Capt. Joshua McCully said Monday as the 571st Military Police Company was officially welcomed home.
When the company deployed, the city of Baqouba, Iraq, teemed with violence, the company commander said. There was no police presence.
The United States launched a large military offensive involving a Fort Lewis-based Stryker combat brigade last summer to clear the city of insurgents.
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There have been "vast improvements" in Baqouba, capital of Diyala province, which is northeast of Baghdad and a former insurgent stronghold. There are still acts of violence in the city, McCully said, but they're no longer daily occurrences.
"They're doing it," he said. "They're policing their own areas. They're responding to complaints from the civilian population. We're just working in support of them."
The company trained more than 6,100 Iraqi police, supported nine combat operations and managed more than $10.2 million in contracts to construct and improve Iraqi police stations in the province.
Sgt. Cliff Felder, who celebrated his 27th birthday Sunday, helped train there. He and others emphasized to Iraqis the importance of building public trust by being fair and looking beyond religious differences. He explained the performance of the Iraq police largely hinged on whether they had support of the tribal elders and residents of the towns.
Four soldiers were killed during deployment, its third to Iraq: Pfc. Jeffrey Avery, 19; Sgt. Blair Emery, 24; Spc. Anthony Kaiser, 27; and Cpl. Damon LeGrand, 27. At least 27 other soldiers were injured. The company deployed in November 2006.
The Fort Lewis soldiers now can turn their thoughts to their families. They returned Jan. 21 and will go on leave shortly.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Perry, 37, said the long to-do list compiled by his wife and the goings-on of his six children, ages 2 to 17, will keep him busy during his time off.
"There's three more of them running around, so I'm definitely meant to be home," Perry said, holding his 2-year-old daughter, Donet, in his arms as two of his other children stood by him.
Sitting in the bleachers before the welcome-home ceremony, Temeca Applewhite, 36, recalled repeating biblical proverbs and other words of encouragement during telephone conversations with her husband, Tony, a 33-year-old sergeant, to give him strength during the long deployment.
It was a difficult time for her, as well. She cared for their three children while he was away. Every night, she'd fall asleep worrying whether it would be her husband's last night.
She still can't quite believe he's home, safe and sound.
"I have to wake up at night and see if it's really him," she said.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.