FOB SOLIDARITY, Iraq - For Soldiers of the Bowie Brigade's Company A, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, Sahara Latiff, known as Sarah to the guys, was more than just a translator. Her constant, radiant smile brightened everyone's day, making some of the darker moments just a little easier to bear.
Sarah was murdered on the morning of Sept. 20. Alpha company has searched for her killers ever since.
During an early morning raid on Oct. 23 in the village outside Camp Solidarity,soldiers of Company A detained five individuals believed to be involved with the death of Latiff.
"Sarah was one of the good ones," said Pfc. Jimmy Harris, an infantryman from Camden, Ark. assigned to the company. "Nothing ever seemed to really get her down too much. She would gladly go on any mission we asked her to."
When not going out on missions, Latiff was stationed at the back gate where she was an indispensable asset with the many Iraqis who approached the gate. It is believed that Latiff was identified by anti-Iraqi forces (AIF) during her time working at the back gate.
So many people came up to that gate," said Sgt. William Simkins from Conway, Ark. "One of the bad guys must've seen her back there and put a mark out on her."
The news of Latiff's murder hit the company hard, everyone was devastated and vowed to bring her killers to justice, but they faced a problem.
Tracking down a murderer is difficult even for police back in the United States where they can move about the community, questioning witnesses. In a hostile land where traveling outside the wire requires gun-truck convoys, freedom of movement is limited.
"We were forced to rely on the intelligence gathering abilities of the locals in our area, and they came through," said acting first sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Floyd Herron of Crossett, Ark. "Friends of Sarah and her family took it upon themselves to seek out who did this and when they thought they had enough information, they brought it to us."
Any intelligence brought to Multi-National Forces must go through a process where it is verified for accuracy. Multiple sources with the same information are typically needed before action is taken.
"Once we got the information, we started checking into it," Herron said. "The last thing anyone wants is to go busting into someone's house, detaining individuals only to find out the information you were working on was completely bogus."
Weeks elapsed between Latiff's killing to the raid leading to the detention of five men believed to be involved. Planned out in excruciating detail, the operation centered on three houses only a few miles away from Camp Solidarity, a location that has seen a recent surge in improvised explosive device placement and increased resistance from AIF.
Herron said during the investigation, evidence indicated the men they were tracking were not only potentially involved in Latiff's death but were leaders in a cell that was spreading their brand of terror throughout the neighborhood.
"This area has been quiet for a long time," Herron said. "People were friendly [we] never saw too much insurgent activity. But as our investigation continued, the constant fear...in the locals...of these men kept coming up."
Under the cover of darkness the company rolled out and brought their Humvee gun trucks around the location, creating a cordon to prevent any escape.
They quickly entered the houses and a full search began. Much to the soldiers' dismay, the individuals they were looking for were not there. But all was not lost...
A local Iraqi living in one of the searched houses indicated the individuals were just across the street. The man's fear was apparent when he refused to go with the soldiers to positively identify the suspects and yet, a solution was found.
Fearing they had lost their opportunity, the troops sprinted across the street, lined up against the outer gate and launched into the building. Within minutes, an excited call of "I think we got them!" came across the radio.
"Someone get digital pictures of them and get that camera over here," responded Capt. Joel Lynch, Company A commander, a resident of Shreveport, La.
The man who gave the information had agreed to positively identify the individuals via digital photographs.
Herron said along with the apprehension of the five men, several pieces of armament and weaponry were found in the building.
"We got these guys," he said. "We'll start questioning them and figure out exactly (what) their involvement in Sarah's death (is), maybe even find the trigger puller.
"The other stuff, the rounds and such, seems to confirm our suspicion that these guys, if not leaders, were involved with an insurgent cell operating in the area.
"So maybe we can bring some justice to Sarah's family and make the neighborhood a little bit safer for its residents."