Bedford Police Officer returns from duty in Iraq

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By John Barnhart

Tim Brooke normally wears the uniform of the Bedford City Police Department. Last year, however, he temporarily traded it for the pixilated camouflage of the United States Army.

A captain in the Virginia National Guard, Brooke returned recently from duty in Iraq. Brooke served as a civil affairs officer with Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry Combat Brigade. His post was actually a Major's job, but he was assigned to it as he had been selected for promotion to that rank prior to the company's deployment.

The company deployed in June, 2007 and Brooke caught up with it in October. He had an Army school that he had to attend first.

The company was assigned to the Green Zone. When it first got there, the Green Zone was taking quite a bit of indirect fire. This calmed down after Moqtada al Sadr's cease fire took effect in August. That didn't mean all was quiet.

"You would hear very loud explosions," Brooke said.

The largest explosions were car bombs.

Militants also wished the Americans a happy Thanksgiving. Four mortar rounds landed in Freedom Compound, where Brooke was stationed, at about 6 p.m. One didn't explode, but an Army explosive ordinance disposal team took care of the dud. After that, Brooke expected a Christmas greeting, but Christmas Day passed uneventfully.

"I was the mayor of Freedom Compound," Brooke said, describing his job. "I was responsible for everything within the walls of Freedom Compound."

Brooke said that Freedom Compound is a 17 acre area within the Green Zone, which, he said, is about the size of Bedford. Freedom Compound is about a mile-and-a-half from one of Saddam Hussein's palaces where General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, work.

His job combined the duties of a small town mayor, a police chief and a landlord. As a landlord, his tenants included several U. S. Department of State and Department of Defense agencies as well as Iraqi government agencies. Most of the work took place in three towers within the compound. There were reconstruction teams based there and reconstruction specialists ? people, both American and Iraqi, who planned reconstruction work in the country. Gulf region engineers were in a building across Haifa Street, from Brooke's office.

The Army had a finance company, which paid contractors, as well as a contracting office in the compound. The World Bank and the Iraqi Ministry of Prosthetics had offices there.

Some 1,200 people worked in Freedom Compound every day, and 600 slept there overnight. Brooke's duty was to see that they had the necessary support. He had to make sure the lights and water worked. He also oversaw security, which was provided by a British company called Aegis. He also made sure that rents were collected from the various tenants.

"I approached the job with a servant attitude," Brooke said. "I was supporting the people who supported the troops."

Most of Brooke's company was assigned to the palace. Brooke, assisted by a staff sergeant, ran the show at Freedom Compound. It was a big responsibility, but he was glad for the challenge.

"Down at the palace, you couldn't swing a stick without hitting an oh-six," Brooke commented.

An 06, in the Army, is a colonel.

Brooke had a high opinion of the Iraqis he worked with.

"I consider the Iraqis who worked with Americans in the Green Zone heroes," he said. "They did it at the risk of their lives."

Brooke said that these people would have been killed if militants had stopped them, outside the Green zone, and found out what they did. Their families were in danger, too, as they lived in the Red Zone, outside the Green zone's relative safety. Brooke worked closely with an Iraqi engineer who knew Freedom Compound's towers like the back of his hand. Whenever Brooke heard of a car bomb going off, he would ask the engineer about his family.

Brooke had no interpreter assigned to him, but the Iraqis he worked directly with spoke English. The engineer had learned English prior to the invasion and liked to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis movies in their original language. It wasn't until the U. S. invasion, however, that he realized how good his English was. An American came in to talk to him, via an interpreter. The engineer realized that the interpreter was not interpreting correctly and made the effort to talk to the American directly. It worked.

The Green Zone, Brooke said, is much like any major city ? with a major difference. Before you get in a vehicle, you check underneath for bombs. You are constantly on the alert so that you don't become a victim of a drive-by shooting. You are also constantly aware of your surroundings, such as where the nearest duck-and-cover bunker is, in case indirect fire started coming in.

You also avoided checkpoints as those were where most car bombs were detonated. Brooke never met with anybody who insisted on meeting at a checkpoint.

"If you can't get in the Green Zone without me, I don't want to talk to you," Brooke commented.

Brooke said that Bedford's police department and his church, Bedford Presbyterian, were supportive while he was away. His fellow officers kept tabs on his on his home to make sure his wife was OK. Care packages that he received were also nice, even from people who he didn't know personally. In the Green Zone, he lacked nothing, but each of these packages meant that somebody was thinking about the troops in Iraq and cared enough to send the package. That meant a great deal to him.

Brooke's biggest surprise was the weather in Iraq. He expected it to be warm. The Army issued him cold weather gear before he left, but he doubted he would need it. He did.

"It got cold," he commented.

It even snowed once, the first time that it had ever done that in the memory of most adult Iraqis he spoke with. Brooke said that he intends to have a word with his travel agent.