CAMP TAJI, Iraq-Lt. Col. Sam Hayes (left), of Newport, Pa., commander of 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Pennsylvania National Guard, meets with Soldiers from his battalion as they prepare for a patrol Feb. 24. The Lewistown, Pa. based unit officially began its mission Feb. 21, after taking over from members of the 2nd BCT, 25th Infantry DIvision. Speaking with Hayes, from left to right are; Sgt. Robert King, of Uniontown, Pa., Spc. Corey McNamara, of Las Vegas, Nev., Spc. Larry Magee, of Clearville, Pa., and Pvt. Matthew Leiphart, of Red Lion, Pa.

BAGHDAD - Several days into the official start of his unit's mission in Iraq, the commander of an Army National Guard battalion from central Pennsylvania says a partnership is already being developed between his Soldiers and Iraqi Security Forces.

"Morale is as high as it's ever been. We're excited about the mission. The partnership with the Iraqis is a good partnership." said Lt. Col. Sam Hayes, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Multi-National Division-Baghdad.

The battalion officially began its Iraq mission with a Feb. 21 Transfer of Authority ceremony. Soldiers of the Lewistown, Pa. based unit took over responsibility to assist Iraqi Security Forces with securing the area of Abu Ghuraib, north of Baghdad.

A two-week transition period preceded the TOA. During that time the battalion's Soldiers worked side by side with the departing Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based out of
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Hayes said the transition period included meetings with Iraqi military leaders.

"We meet on a very regular basis, at least two or three times a week. We do have security concerns, like we always do, but there's also a lot of economic and government opportunities that we both share an interest in developing."

"The Iraqi Army is a professional army and very capable," Hayes added. "We've partnered with the Iraqi Police as well."

Sgt. Robert King, Uniontown, Pa., a dismounted infantry team leader, credited the Hawaii-based Soldiers with helping his unit prepare for the TOA.

"It was done expeditiously. They were right on and were candid with their responses to our questions," King said.

Pvt. Matthew Leiphart, Red Lion, Pa., echoed King's comments. Leiphart, who enlisted 18 months ago, said he looks forward to the rest of the deployment.

"We've been training to do this mission and now we actually get to do what we've been training to do."

Page last updated Mon March 2nd, 2009 at 12:12