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Thursday, April 10

Infantry troops securing Najaf sorry to miss Baghdad's fall

By Chantal Escoto | The Leaf-Chronicle

NAJAF, Iraq - The soldiers of the last infantry battalion of the 101st Airborne Division still in Najaf say they have mixed feelings about missing out on the fall of Baghdad.

``I feel like I could do more than sitting here and making sure my guys go on guard duty,'' said Sgt. Christopher Parker, 23, of Noble, Okla. ``I want to see some action. I wish I could be there putting my two cents in.''

The soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st's 1st Brigade, have spent the past several days helping to secure the Shiite holy city of Najaf. Their brigade's 2nd and 3rd battalions have moved north, closer to Baghdad, along with the division headquarters.

Other elements of the 101st, including its 2nd and 3rd brigades, are working closer to the capital with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division - a mechanized infantry unit with armored personnel carriers and some tanks. The 3rd Infantry specializes in desert terrain operations and spearheaded the American push to the Iraqi capital.

``It's a love-hate relationship, but we're in no position to bite off more than we can chew to fight Iraqi tank units,'' said 1st Battalion Staff Sgt. Jeffrey McCool, 31, of Oak Creek, Wis.

``I was here for the last Gulf War, and it's completely different. Here it's more a peacekeeping mission.''

Although he knew the 1st Battalion wouldn't be the first into Baghdad, Cpl. Rick Bagly, of Unity, Maine, was surprised how quickly the capital had been taken. He doubted there would be anything left for his unit to do. ``Eventually we'll get there,'' said Bagly, 22, ``only to fly us out to the United States.''

Staff Sgt. Pablo Cadena, 28, said he was not too disappointed, because the sooner the war is over, the sooner he can go home to his wife and daughter in Cadiz, Ky.

``It's really not our fight. It's a mechanized fight. That's just the way it works. Each unit has its own mission,'' he said.

An Air Force serviceman from Fort Campbell, Ky., said his views of war and his role in it had changed since it started.

``The right people are in Baghdad. Before I got here, I thought it was about the battle and overtaking the people,'' said Scott Palmer, 19, of Boise, Idaho, a senior airman who helps arrange close-air support for the 1st Battalion. ``I'm not here for the great overtaking of Baghdad. I'm content here just seeing the people so happy."