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Staff sergeant sees progress in Iraq - ‘They’re happy that we’re there, that we’re putting generators and lights in the neighborhood’

A Spring, Texas native, Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Radcliffe, who’s serving his second tour in Iraq, has seen Baghdad’s Sadr City district in both perspectives, as the scene of heavy fighting and as a community with a promising future.

“When we first got here, I would have never expected any of the stuff to happen — never expected it to happen — so it teaches you to prepare for anything,” he said.

Radcliffe is a military policeman by trade, but during this tour he has been involved in everything from direct-fire engagements with the enemy to escorting reconstruction teams across northern Baghdad.

“He is not the type of guy to bang his own gong,” said Army Lt. Col. Michael Pemrick, deputy commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Multinational Division Baghdad. “He’s very talented, and I think he probably doesn’t think what he did is extraordinary, because he’s probably been successful his whole life.”

In the past nine months, Radcliffe, who now serves as a squad leader with the Military Police Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion in the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, has performed more than 200 combat patrols in and around Sadr City and conducted various missions from bringing in detainees to exchanging gunfire with the enemy.

He provides security for the embedded provincial reconstruction team that’s responsible for rebuilding governmental services in Iraq. He provided security for civil affairs teams, and he’s worked with Iraqi security forces in Baghdad’s Sadr City and Adhamiyah districts. Radcliffe served on Pemrick’s personal security detachment until recently, when he took over his duties as a squad leader.

“He was the lead truck in my PSD,” Pemrick said. “Not only was he competent in moving us around the battlefield safely, he’s also a very good dismounted leader, and led his men through many situations that were hazardous with no issues.”

In late March, illegal militias violated the cease-fire order Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had issued to the militias he controlled in the district. The Iraqi government sent soldiers into Sadr City to quash the uprising with help from Multinational Division Baghdad.

“The mission here for United States forces, of course, is to try and pass the torch to the Iraqi forces — try to get them trained up, get them to learn how to do their job better,” Radcliffe said. “Part of the way we do that is by leading by example.”

As the Iraqi army conducted its initial push into Sadr City, Pemrick and his personal security detachment team were among the Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers lending a hand.

“The IA was conducting the push, and we were there to supervise,” Radcliffe explained. But they ended up doing more than supervising, Pemrick said, as the U.S. soldiers had to deal with a combat environment that included improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and direct-fire contact with the enemy.

“There were a couple of times when the IA were trying to take Phase Line Gold,” he said. “We were dismounted with them, and Sergeant Radcliffe was our point guy — he was up with the point IA guys. There’s IEDs going off, RPGs and small-arms fire, general confusion,” Pemrick said. “It was dark, [but] he never faltered.”

Radcliffe said all he was doing was helping the Iraqi soldiers. “A lot of that was morale boosting and helping them out along the way,” he said.

Pemrick, a Greenwich, N.Y., native, said Radcliffe’s example helped his Iraqi counterparts succeed. “He gained the trust of many of the IA soldiers who got to work with him, and they drew confidence from his example,” Pemrick said. “As he moved forward, they would move forward with him. He was a key member of that whole situation.”

Radcliffe received the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions in Sadr City.

“[U.S. troops] pushing forward with them has given the IA a lot of confidence in their abilities,” Radcliffe said. “[That confidence] helps them conduct the raids that they’re doing up north of the wall. A lot of the stuff that they are doing on their own are because of those events in Sadr City.”

The confidence Iraqi soldiers now have in their abilities and their ability to take the lead on missions is a welcome sight for Radcliffe.

“It’s like you’ve been training a football team for a while,” he explained. “You see them in practice; you’ve helped them in their drills in order to become an effective football team. You’re the coach on the sidelines, and you get to see them play their first game, and they win.”

Radcliffe then moved on to providing security for the civil affairs teams and embedded PRTs, who are working with the Iraqi government to help rebuild the country. These teams head out into cities and town to see what needs to be fixed, built or rebuilt. They decide what would help the community and hire a local contractor to do the work. The teams regularly stop by to check on the projects’ progress.

One project was a school.

“We were there for the initial check, when the school was falling apart at the seams,” Radcliffe recalled. “Then we get to go back to the school’s reopening. To see the difference that’s been made, that part is really cool.”

This gave Radcliffe a chance to see Iraq slowly being rebuilt. It also sent him back into Sadr City.

“That’s probably the most surreal portion for me,” he said. “Six months ago, they were fighting us. They were trying to kill us. Now you go through the area, [and] people have their shops open; they’re going back to school.

“They’re rebuilding the buildings, talking to the people on the street — nothing but happiness from them,” he continued. “They’re happy that we’re there, that we’re putting generators and lights in the neighborhood. They’re happy for the security - progress is all about progress.”

Radcliffe, who entered the Army four years ago as a private first class, said that progress is good for Iraq and good for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. “That’s what’s ultimately going to get us out of here,” he said.

Radcliffe’s future as an Army leader is bright, Pemrick said, whether he chooses to remain enlisted or seek a commission.

“He’s a future sergeant major, a future [officer candidate school] guy,” he said. “He will not stay long as a staff sergeant, nor should he.”

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