On night patrol for insurgents in the Oruba neighborhood of Kirkuk, soldiers of Bravo Company stop any vehicle they see to search it -- vehicles at night are rare, and suspicious. Anyone out at night is suspect.
The soldiers are like cops doing a traffic stop late at night in a bad neighborhood. In a few hours, the 11 p.m. curfew will start and anyone outside can be arrested.
The patrol stops a vehicle and soldiers in one of the two Humvees dismount and search it.
Spec. Kevin Harrington of Lewiston and 1st Sgt. Steven Woodall of Boise get out and stand guard. Spec. Michael Banks of Boise mans the machine gun turret in the roof of the Humvee. Their eyes constantly scan the streets, rooftops and shadows for movement.
Soldiers talk through an interpreter to the vehicle's driver. The car is filled with people, sitting silently, staring out the windows at the soldiers. The driver opens the trunk and hood at the request of the soldiers, who are looking for weapons and explosives. Lt. Aaron Jarnagin of Idaho Falls thanks the driver and makes small talk. He speaks a few Arabic phrases and the driver smiles. Jarnagin tells him he can go, and to have a good evening.
The patrol continues. The soldiers stop a few more vehicles, talk to anyone they see in the streets.
They ask, "Are you Ali Baba? Where's Ali Baba?" It's a generic term for the bad guys that both Americans and Iraqis understand.
— Roger Phillips
Their tickets home were practically in their hands, but three Bravo Company soldiers decided to cash them in for a $15,000 bonus and the opportunity to continue serving in Iraq.
Sgt. 1st Class Ron Oldham of Middleton, Sgt. Shaun Natwick of Kuna and Cpl. Paul Maisey of Caldwell stood before the eternal flame Friday, a Biblical landmark near Kirkuk, and were sworn in for six more years of military service.
"It's Biblical and it has been around forever, and we've been around for ever, so it seemed fitting," Oldham said.
The eternal flame is a crater about 50-feet in diameter written about in the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrack, Meshak and Abednego into the flames because they wouldn't worship his golden idol. The Bible tells of them surviving, unburned, because of their faith in God.
The three soldiers stood in the crater and near the flame. Actually, a little too close because a flame erupted near Oldham's feet and singed his boot while Lt. Col. Michael Woods of Boise administered their re-enlistment oath.
Oldham has already served 15 years in the military, and he said helping the Iraqis was a prime motivator for re-enlisting.
"I kind of like being here, actually. Seeing all these kids makes it better," he said. "Giving them a better future, that's what it's all about."
Before this enlistment ends, Oldham will be eligible for retirement. He said he never really considered getting out and going home.
"I'm in it for the long haul. I couldn't leave my guys back here," he said. "It's also kind of a family tradition. My dad was in and all my uncles and cousins, too."
-- Roger Phillips
For Cpl. Paul Maisey, deploying to Iraq has been, as Yogi Berra would say, "deja vu all over again."
Maisey was about to get out of the Marine Corps when the U.S. first invaded Iraq in March 2003. His enlistment was involuntarily extended, and he was part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment that rolled from Kuwait through the southern Iraqi oilfields and into Baghdad.
Maisey spent an extra four and half months in the Marines after his four years were up before getting his discharge. Then he decided to join the National Guard for a year while he was attending Boise State University.
Maisey's one-year contract was supposed to end last August, but once again, it was involuntarily extended and he was sent to Iraq. He considered returning the Marine Corps, but decided to re-enlist in the National Guard.
"I got to be pretty good friends with these guys,” the Caldwell soldiers said. "I decided to stay with them and take some money, too."
Each of the soldiers will receive a $15,000 re-enlistment bonus, which the military is offering to keep forces in the service.
"The money is part of it, but if I didn't want to put on the uniform, I wouldn't do it for the money," Maisey said.
-- Roger Phillips
The $15,000 bonus for Sgt. Shaun Natwick will be shining in his driveway when he gets home to Kuna. He bought a brand new Harley Davidson, which he plans to ride for the first time when he takes leave.
All three know that signing on for another six years means the possibility of another deployment.
"I expect to be deployed at least one more time," Natwick said. "You've always got to expect that part."
-- Roger Phillips