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Then and Now

Then: TF 3-15 conducts a "Thunder Run" into the heart of Baghdad. thunder_run_2__1-64_TF_3-15.jpg

Now: 4th Stryker BCT, 2nd Infantry Division, conducts a mostly simple (still watching for those IEDs) road march out of Baghdad, headed home.

A line of Strykers convoy in the early hours of Aug. 16, as part of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, United States Division-CenterÂ’s last patrol through Iraq as they leave theater. The 4th SBCT is the last combat brigade to leave theater. Photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson
A line of Strykers convoy in the early hours of Aug. 16, as part of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, United States Division-CenterÂ’s last patrol through Iraq as they leave theater. The 4th SBCT is the last combat brigade to leave theater. Photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson
 
Yes, there's still tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq, and literally boatloads of stuff to bring home or turn over to the Iraqi government.   And too many people dying because of bombs.

Nonetheless...

A Republic, if you can keep it.

And have no doubt - it will be *theirs* not ours. And it won't look like ours, and we'd be foolish to expect it to.

Keeping it.  There's the rub, eh?  Still and all - it has to come from them, from within, if they are truly going to be able to keep it. We just gave them the chance, and the choice.  Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended, it's time for the Iraqis to take the lead.  On the US side, the civilians will be taking over.  With an army of those evil private security contractors, most of whom will have been to Iraq before, in different clothes.  Some will come for the money, some for the adventure, because they've tasted the rush, and some, like our own Bill who has been there for years now, because they believe in trying to complete that which some of their buddies died trying to accomplish.  And many will call them mercenaries, with little understanding and much opprobrium.

Oh - and thanks Mr. President, for having the courage to listen to your theater commander and order the Surge, since this marks the successful end of the surge.   To you will fall the credit, except where your successors co-opt your success for their own purposes.  Amazing what you can do if you don't care who gets the credit, eh?  We know which President I'm talking about.

And lest someone think I'm missing something - yes, there are still "security and assistance" brigade combat teams in-country to continue the train-up of the Iraqi security forces - and they look just like the combat brigades that have left, with the exception of the addtion of the training teams.  So we've still got roughly two division-equivalents (I'm dating myself there, in this era of the brigade-centric Army) of ground troops capable of combat operations.  We kept a lot of troops in Germany for a long time for similar reasons...  But it was a lot less dangerous work.  The war may officially be over, but the fighting is not.  There will still be body bags, and Iraq is still a dangerous place to live.



Last Full Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq in Convoy
By Army Pfc. Kimberly Hackbarth
U.S. Division Center

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Aug. 19, 2010 - Through the dusty driver's side window, Army Pfc. Thomas Johnson could see the final stretch of dirt road leading to the border.


Stryker armored vehicles with the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team line up at a fueling site at Camp Taji, Iraq, Aug. 17, 2010, to receive fuel before heading out on a two-day mission to leave Iraq through Kuwait. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Kimberly Hackbarth
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

As one of the lead elements in a company-size formation of Stryker armored vehicles, Johnson and Army Spc. Adam Porter -— both combat engineers with 38th Engineer Company, attached to the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team -- had driven collectively more than 400 miles on the unruly and sometimes deadly roads from here to Kuwait in a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.

Soldiers of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team have just completed a yearlong tour supporting the U.S. Division Center area of operations in and around Baghdad, assisting, training and advising the Iraqi security forces.

As a memoir of the last full combat brigade in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which comes to a close at the end of the month, the rest of the crew said their final goodbyes to Iraq into their digital cameras before entering Kuwait and ending their final deployment to Iraq.

The team of combat engineers helped to clear the way for the symbolic convoy out of Iraq, reminiscent of U.S. forces first pushing into Iraq at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, driving down a route similar to the one servicemembers entered the country through in 2003.

The brigade's departure leaves 56,000 U.S. servicemembers in Iraq. When Operation Iraqi Freedom ends Aug. 31 and the civilian-led Operation New Dawn begins Sept. 1, that number will be down to 50,000. That's when the U.S. military mission in Iraq officially changes from combat to an "advise and assist" capacity, completing a transition that has long been under way.

Most of the Stryker brigade soldiers, including Johnson and Porter, said they did not expect to leave Iraq behind a steering wheel, driving to Kuwait.

"I thought we'd fly out of here," Porter said.

But the mode of exit didn't matter to the soldiers, as long as it meant they were returning home soon.

While people in the back of Strykers and MRAPs had the opportunity to nap during the two-day trip, the gunners, drivers and vehicle commanders stayed awake, focused and alert to their surroundings. Energy drinks, daytime naps and casual conversations among crew members kept the weary drivers going.

"I was thinking about doing my job proficiently and getting everybody there safely. If I don't get everyone there safely, then we fail the mission. And I'm all about completing the mission," said Johnson, mentioning that part of his mission was returning home to his wife.

The team made it without having to deal with any attacks, a major improvement from veteran combat engineers' experiences during earlier rotations. Because security has improved over time as Iraq has become more stable, certain aspects of later deployment cycles have changed as well.

"Yeah, we trained to kick in doors, we trained to clear buildings, we trained to react to contact, but every single one of us knew what we were going to be doing — riding in a truck looking for [roadside bombs]," Porter said.

For Johnson, a Phoenix native, and Porter, from Ashland, Wis., training for driving the Buffalo-style MRAP -- a large vehicle with a mechanical arm for checking potential threats -- began during the brigade's June rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Soldiers trained on a 5-ton truck frame with a Buffalo cab welded onto it. It was not until arriving in Iraq they had an opportunity to get behind the wheel of the real thing.

A year later, as Johnson drove his team past the gates leading to Kuwait and concluding their last patrol in Iraq, he said he felt a long-awaited feeling.

"It's a feeling of success that you did what you were expected to do for a whole entire year, then coming to the end of your tour and finishing it out strong," he said.
 

8 Comments

Well done, soldiers (and the rest of our team).
 
I'm not one of the "This is Bush's (or Obama's) Vietnam." crowd, but this, from the LA Times:

"The soldiers staying behind have been rebranded from combat troops into six advise-and-assist brigades,"

Sounds like Vietnam in reverse to me...JFK sent the newly formed (?) SF over as advisors, and then LBJ took office and little old MACV gave way to USARV and we ended up with, what 550,000 troops in country (including my happy little butt, levied from a really sweet assignment in the 4th Trans Bn, Flak Kaserne, Ludwigsburg, FRoG).

And yes, I _know_ we had troops in Vietnam prior to that.  E.G, "Earthquake McGoon", shot down delivering supplies to the French Foreign Legion, et al, at Dien Bien Phu.  I haven't read about him in a "blue moon" or 2...or 6.  I think its time to revisit his memory.

I'll be b-a-a-a--c-k.

 
Ah, yes, it has been a blue moon or 6...maybe 8, since I've visited Earthquake McGoon...seems they located the crash site in Laos and the USACIL (think I've got that right) from Hawaii went in and found some skeletal remains (from 1954!!!) that were ID'd as Earthquake, which have since been interred at Arlington.  God rest his soul, and may his family find peace amongst themselves.

My new desktop artwork:  http://www.check-six.com/images/EarthquakeMcGoon/Earthquake%27sFinalFlight.bmp
 
I knew Flak Kaserne well. I lived in Pattonville and rode my bike over to Flak a number of times to see some of the guys that attended the Church of God servicemen's fellowship that was held at the Pattonville Chapel.

I've seen pics of the place since it's been closed, and it is sad to see everything falling down and overgrown. The US Military is pretty well out of Ludwigsburg these days. The Krauts have already torn the kaserne closest to Pattonville down and built apartments. Klayburn Kaserne I think was the name. Wilkins Barracks near Kornwestheim is gone except for the gym, and just a couple of small buildings is left of Luedendorf.
 
LaMigra... McGoon was flying as a mercenary when he bought the farm at DBP, not a 'troop' if that implies official military status.
'This is it, son'  would be my own choice of final words if I could have the presence of mind to be that calm when it happens...
 
... and I have changed my own desktop to that great image, thanks!
 
I read somewhere that the first "advisors" were sent to Vietnam in 1954 by President Eisenhower (oh, yeah, I just found it in the Wikipedia article about President Eisenhower, being Wikipedia it must be right <grin>).
 
Neffi...Earthquake was flying for CAT, which was owned by the CIA, on a mission approved by President Eisenhower.  Not exactly The Wild Geese, I'd say...