Friday, August 24, 2007

Sworn to Protect

Volunteers Begin Service to Iraq

Friday, 24 August 2007
By Spc. L.B. Edgar
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

ABU GHRAIB — “I promise to give my allegiance and my service to the nation and people of Iraq,” the middle-aged men said in unison.

“I promise to cooperate in order to serve the Iraqi people and build a new Iraqi nation,” they continued with their hands stacked one over the other on top of a copy of the Quran.

“I will support and defend the Iraqi government and the people of Iraq against other organizations. For these reasons I sign below,” the men concluded, subsequently signing a card with the oath they had just sworn to uphold with God and one another as witnesses.

The men were not enlisting in the Iraqi army or taking an oath of public office. Instead, they were part of a mass enrollment of everyday citizens into the Coalition Critical Infrastructure Force, whose members are most commonly referred to as the volunteers.

Volunteers are men all equally eager to protect their communities, said Capt. Jay Bunte, who points them in the right direction when it’s their turn to take the oath.

The opportunity to swear allegiance to the government of Iraq, apply for an identification card and thereby work toward greater security was made possible by a local leader, Sheik Abd. The elderly man hosted Soldiers of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, for the event in the small Shia town of Al Awad on the western fringe of Iraq’s capital, said Bunte, a native of Arlington, Texas.

“He’s a local leader who is for the people. He’s worried about the security of the town and what better way to provide security than by themselves (rather than continuing) to rely on coalition forces,” Bunte said. “Before we arrived (on this deployment rotation) they policed their own. They actually fought off insurgents themselves.”

The volunteers are enrolled into the Biometric Automated Tool Set (BATS) system, said Sgt. Joseph Box, the BATS system non-commissioned officer in charge for Co. B.

Throughout the event approximately 150 volunteers entered the room set up to accommodate the BATS system. Eight stations processed one volunteer at a time. Each volunteer provided their name and date of birth. Height, weight and hair color were recorded. All ten fingerprints were taken along with a passport size photo. Finally, one eye was painlessly scanned with an infrared laser recording an image of the iris, Box, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., said.

“It’s the best way we have of identifying people” Box said of the system he has operated for almost one year.

The scan of the iris is the most accurate identifying feature of the BATS system. For the past three years the iris-scan technology has been on the market. “Only now is it being mass produced and utilized in the field,” Box said.

Data from those enrolled in the BATS system is compared to an existing database of people already enrolled. Enrollees profiles are maintained by Multi-National Division-Baghdad, but shared with forces operating throughout Iraq and even service members serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, he said.

The technology is useful to Soldiers because it allows identification without necessarily having the suspect’s name.

“Even if the name is wrong I’ll know it’s the guy because of his iris scans and biometrics,” Box said.

In the case of the volunteers, the BATS system is a safeguard measure to protect against individuals trying to infiltrate the security force, Box said. “If 500 people show up today, chances are there (is) one or two rotten apples in the bunch.”

Though a positive match, or “coming up hot” on a BATS system, is not in and of itself evidence, “it can help our command make the decision whether or not to send (a suspect) to the holding area,” Box said. “We’ve had some success with it processing unknown detainees back at our battalion holding area.”

Every detainee is entered into the system, Box said. “Most of the time, when they see this equipment, they recognize it right of way. Not too many of these guys get pictures of their eyeballs taken. They don’t forget it.”

After enrolling, the volunteers were congratulated by their host, Sheik Abd. They washed their hands and as a group placed their hands on their sacred text. The men swore to their God to protect and uphold the rule of law and be loyal to the government of Iraq. Finally, they received a card with the oath and signed it.

“It’s them swearing to defend their town to the best of their ability,” Bunte said of the ritual.

Once the volunteers receive their ID cards, they are sworn protectors of their communities, Bunte said. By week’s end, the volunteers will take to the street to keep the promises they’ve made to Iraq’s government, its people and most importantly, their God.