By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Divisions 3rd Brigade have a Christmas wish for Santa this year: a few more weeks like the ones theyve just had.
Things are going well, said Col. Mike Murray, the brigades commander, in a telephone interview Thursday. Its actually been fairly quiet.
The past week began with a successful joint operation by the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment that hauled in two large weapons caches and 19 detainees, Murray said. Working with the Iraqi National Guard, the haul boosted the number of arrests this month in Baghdads Sheikh Maruf area to more than 30.
The brigade also turned over control of the entrance to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense to the Iraqi guardsmen, he said.
Two car bombs were detonated in the brigades area, Murray said. The blasts did not injure any American troops, but several Iraqis were killed and injured.
Both targeted Iraqis, Murray said. It just baffles you what it is theyre trying to accomplish doing that.
December has ushered in more civil projects for the brigade. Murray said his brigade is working on a $40 million sewer, $6 million electric and $2 million water projects in his area, which includes Baghdads notorious Haifa Street, a dangerous major artery that runs through the city to the airport.
Two soldiers, who recently extended their stay in Iraq, are continuing to work on a special health project, Murray said.
Mississippi Guardsmen Capt. Steve Lindsley and Sgt. Chris Cummings first started their program in August after finding a shortage of treatment for Iraqi amputees dating to the 1980s, Murray said..
Cummings, a member of the Army Reserves 478th Civil Affairs Battalion from Miami, ran a prosthetics company before he was mobilized and Lindsley, a certified prosthetist with the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Monroe, La., identified more than 60 Iraqi amputees, many of them children and teenagers.
Captain Lindsley came up with the idea of starting a free prosthetics clinic in Iraq for local people regardless of age, Cummings told a public affairs reporter at the start of the program.
A trailer loaded with prosthetic supplies left Mississippi in August for the free amputee clinic in Baghdad run out of a basement at the brigades Grey Wolf base, Murray said. The devices, a rarity in Iraq where amputees have been neglected for decades, are being sent by Methodist Rehabilitation Centers Operation Restoration program via Fort Hood.
Lindsley coordinated efforts of gathering supplies with Chris Wallace, the director of Methodists Orthotics and Prosthetics Division in Jackson.
During a Dec. 7 news conference with local media, Murray said the brigade hopes to be able to transfer sponsorship of the prosthetics lab to the Iraqis before the soldiers leave Baghdad.
On Wednesday, the brigade entertained U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the House majority whip, and minority whip U.S. Rep. Steny, D-Md., who arrived at the brigades camp Wednesday in time for dinner.
Murray said the lull in the violence has allowed the soldiers to focus on the season and their families.
We got our Christmas trees, several shipments, Murray said. We just finished up the last holiday video were sending back to the families.
Several soldiers from Task Force 3-8 Cavalry also delivered boxes filled with school supplies, toys and food to an elementary in Baghdads Salhiya neighborhood on Dec. 8. The toy drive was organized by Matthew Beddal, the 17-year-old nephew of Capt. Jonathan Beddall, who was working on his Eagle Scout project.
Murray said the brigade is planning Christmas feasts in all 10 of its dining facilities.
Not sure what the menus looking like yet, but Im sure it will be good, he said.
Despite the yearlong separation and the holiday season, Murray said morale is good and his troops remain focused.
Ive been absolutely amazed at how high morale is, he said. Most of them believe in what theyre doing, if not all.
After eight or nine months in Iraq, the soldiers have formed strong bonds that are helping them deal with the separation from loved ones, he said.
We stay fairly busy so we dont have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves, Murray said.
The families need to know their soldiers are doing well, Murray said. Theyre doing a good job. Theyre focused They believe what theyre doing is worthwhile. Thats what keeps them motivated more than anything else.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at firstname.lastname@example.org