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Local Guard sees fewer bomb attacks

The infantry captain who commands Army National Guard troops based in Detroit Lakes, Bemidji and Alexandria believes the Guard is making progress in its corner of Anbar Province, Iraq.

Adam Gilbertson commands Able Company, 2-136th (In) Combined Arms Battalion.

"The past eight months have been challenging for all of us, but I continue to be impressed with the professionalism of the soldiers in our company," he said in a news bulletin sent to families and the media.

"They have worked incredibly hard during this deployment and they continue to perform every mission to the highest possible standard," he added. "I am also pleased to report that the past six weeks have been relatively quiet for us and the violence in our area has decreased since late August. I believe that much of the credit for the reduction in attacks has been the work that our soldiers are doing in our area to help the local people rebuild their villages and lives."

In a phone interview from Iraq on Tuesday, Gilbertson talked about why he is relatively optimistic about the battalion's mission.

"It's a dangerous place, we never want to lose sight of that," he said. "But a lot of good things our soldiers are doing here are missed by the national media. We're starting to see some progress. Sometimes it's four steps forward and three steps back, but we have worked really hard to build some trust in our area."

The battalion patrols daily in a "very, very rural" area that is 98 percent Sunni Muslim, so it is spared the Sunni-Shiite fighting plaguing Baghdad and other cities, Gilbertson said.

"It's a lot like home, in a sense, small towns, very tight-knit," Gilbertson said.

Government is largely in the hands of un-elected village elders.

"It's a tribal system. We clearly need to know who these people are -- we can't get things done without them.

"One thing about a tribal culture it's taken us awhile to adjust to, is they almost view us as a tribe -- if something bad happens, it reflects on all of us -- what they consider the whole tribe bears responsibility for what happens."

By meeting with elders, doing humanitarian missions and trying to be as decent as possible to people while at the same time fighting a war, the Guardsmen have been able to somewhat mollify a largely hostile population.

"In our area we've seen attacks (against U.S. troops) decline pretty significantly," Gilbertson said. Of course, the security situation can change rapidly, he added. "I stress that you go across the street and it's different."

He thanked people back home for their donations of school supplies that earlier allowed the battalion to supply four schools in its area.

"The outpouring (of support) we've seen is just amazing," he said. "I also want to thank people for keeping us in their thoughts and prayers -- the office next to mine is literally full of boxes sent to soldiers for Christmas -- it's just wonderful to have that level of support from family and friends back home."

In their most recent humanitarian mission, Nov. 27, Able Company soldiers led the way conducting a "cooperative medical engagement" and school supply distribution in the village of Qarayat Al Majarrah.

"The mission brought soldiers from Able Company and Headquarters Company based in Moorhead along with soldiers from the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army together in Qarayat Al Majarrah to provide medical support for the people in the village," Gilbertson said in the newsletter.

"The village does not have any medical facilities and the residents of the town have asked our soldiers if there was any way to help them with their medical needs."

The mission also included a large donation of school supplies for the village children and a grant for the school. All of the school supplies and grant money were provided by Guard supporters in Minnesota and North Dakota.

"This operation was also significant for our company, because it was the first time the Iraqi Army had conducted operations in the village since the war began and it was also the first opportunity we had to see the capabilities of the Iraqi medical professionals that took part in the mission," Gilbertson wrote

The Iraqi Army soldiers and the Iraqi medical personnel who performed side by side with Guardsmen during the mission were well-trained and professional, he added.

"While this was their first visit to Majarrah, they immediately took the lead in the operation and provided much needed medical support to the people in town," he wrote. "This is clearly a professional Iraqi Army unit and it has been a pleasure for us to work with them in the Al Anbar Province. They are the future in this area and we know that when the day comes to turn over security responsibility here, we will be leaving the people and the region in good hands."

Throughout the day, hundreds of local Iraqis visited the medical facility and were helped by medics and Iraqi Army medical personnel, and the American and Iraqi doctors saw over 125 patients before the day was over.

"This operation was a very positive event for the people in Majarrah and we hope this is the beginning of a strong new relationship with the people in town," Gilbertson wrote.

With winter coming, the Guardsmen are asking supporters back in Minnesota for donations of good quality warm clothing.

"It gets very chilly here at night ... We need sweatshirts, pants, shoes, in all sizes, but especially little kid shoes. We are starting to hand them out now," he said.

"We can't say 'thank you' enough for all of the support we've gotten from home," he added.

Gilbertson announced the following promotions:

From private first class (E3) to specialist (E4): Jason Mittag, Alexandria; Jonathon Anderson and Nicholas Sumner, Bemidji; and Michael Kleinschmidt, Detroit Lakes,

From specialist to sergeant (E5): Daniel Wilson, Donald DeGroat, Brent Steinmetz and Adam Gunderson, Detroit Lakes; Aaron Rousselange, Alexandria; Brian Niner and Daniel Gazelka, Bemidji; and Tyler Modlin and Lance Meyer, East Saint Paul.

From sergeant to staff sergeant (E6): Danny Sharpe and Brian Ness, Bemidji; and Jonathon Holm, Alexandria.