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On Campaign Trail, a Single Shot

"C'mon, sing a song, Thornton," Hoe said as they sat inside the hulking Stryker.

Thornton complied. The words to "Kyle Quit the Band" came over the platoon's intercom as Hoe sang along:

Soldiers from C Company's 1st Platoon work to get out the vote on the west side of Mosul's al-Whada neighborhood. (Steve Fainaru -- The Washington Post)

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One minute ago Kyle quit the band

Now we're back together again

Misunderstanding didn't understand

Now we're back together again, la la la . . .

The 1st and 2nd platoons of Charlie Company -- more than 80 men packed into seven armored vehicles -- then rolled out the gates of Camp Freedom. The platoons came to a stop at al-Whada in southeast Mosul, where since November insurgents have taken potshots at U.S. and Iraqi troops from mosques and vacant buildings.

The attacks have intensified with the approach of the elections, soldiers said.

The 1st Platoon worked the west side of the neighborhood, Hoe's 2nd Platoon the east.

The men bolted from their vehicles into the slanting rain, running and sweeping their black M-4 rifles from side to side. Behind them crept the dark green Strykers, their .50-caliber machine guns trained on the neighborhood.

On a cinder-block wall, graffiti read: "Long Live Saddam, Father of All Martyrs."

Aside from the troops, the streets were empty.

"The local population, they want to be hospitable, but a lot of times they're either nervous, just due to our very presence or due to the fact that as soon as we show up, several minutes later they're gonna start receiving mortar fire or RPG fire or small-arms fire near their homes" from the insurgents, said the Charlie Company commander, Capt. Rob Born, 30, of Burke, Va.

Born stopped to chat up a butcher hacking up a cow in his carport.

"Are you gonna vote?" Born asked cheerfully.

He handed the man a red-and-white leaflet that showed two Iraqis casting ballots. "One vote is more precious than gold," the leaflet said.

"If it's safe to go, I will. If it's not, I won't," the butcher told him.

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