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Tuesday, April 8

Troops get psychological with Iraqi fighters

By John Bebow | The Detroit News

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. Army Airborne Sgts. Jeremy Gray and Daniel Voss are almost certain the cries of babies and screams of women will pierce the streets of Baghdad in coming days.

They will create the terror as part of the Airborne's 305th Psychological Operations Co.

"That's the fun stuff," said Gray, who, like Voss, is from Maryland.

With giant concert speakers bolted atop their Humvees, their Airborne team rode Tuesday into Baghdad to work with Marines already storming the city's eastern half.

This small platoon deceives Iraqi opposition with sounds of tanks and helicopters that aren't really there. They hand out leaflets encouraging civilian cooperation. They broadcast surrender appeals. And they harass Iraqi fighters with those late-night sounds of human suffering.

They are fresh off a successful mission in the southern city of Nasiriyah, a hotbed of guerrilla fighting. They gathered street intelligence to help lead Allied Special Forces to the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the bodies of other American prisoners of war.

They met with key leaders in the city and soon led other American troops to a hospital where allied forces recovered American uniforms and a large stash of weapons. And, using loud broadcasts, they encouraged fighters with President Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen guerrilla-fighting force to surrender.

"It's really exciting to see your job work," Voss said. "We smoked about 20 people out of there."

The Psychological Operations team also obtained a large stash of local food for themselves.

"One night, a family made us chicken, rice, fresh tea and bread," Gray said. "The bread was amazing."

Gray and Voss said the residents' nonchalant reaction to fighting in Nasiriyah was surreal. "These people have lived with war for 30 years, so they would roam the streets even while the fighting was going on," Gray said.

"I'm firing magazine after magazine of bullets - and they're sitting outside in a circle smoking cigarettes," Voss said.

A piece of shrapnel embedded in Voss' windshield in Nasiriyah is a reminder of how close to the action this Airborne team will likely be in Baghdad.

"Usually, the broadcasts invite combat," Voss said. "We're bullet magnets."

So far, the unit hasn't lost anyone.

"I'm just focused on getting my team home," Gray said as his team left a supply camp just outside Baghdad on Tuesday after a good night's sleep.

Both Gray and Voss took time Monday night for quick "morale calls" to the United States. Because of the sensitive nature of their work, it is especially tough for their families to keep up on their whereabouts in Iraq.

"I come from a military family. My dad was an Army major," Voss said. "So they know not to ask exactly what I'm doing."

The Iraqis often don't understand what he's doing, either. Steadily, however, the Airborne team has built solid relationships with initially wary civilians.

"I had one woman in Nasiriyah tell me she lost a son in the U.S. bombing," Voss said. "But she said it was OK, because she's lost three other sons, one in the Iran-Iraq war and two to Saddam's thugs. She said she could see now how it will all end."