Pa. representatives visit with Stryker Soldiers
June 22, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Col. Marc Ferraro, commander of 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, updated four U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania on the work of "Independence" brigade Soldiers during the congressional delegation's visit here, June 7.
U.S. Reps. Tim Holden (D-17th District), Bill Shuster (R-9th District), Charlie Dent (R-15th District) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-3rd District) visit comes at the midpoint of the brigade's deployment in Iraq.
"We conduct full-spectrum operations," Ferraro told the delegation. "Everything we do is through a partnership with the Iraqi Army."
Ferraro reported the brigade has conducted over 3,000 patrols, with Soldiers finding 79 weapon caches. Additionally, 827 arrest warrants have been issued through cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces. Ferraro said that number is the highest within Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
The 56th's 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery has fired more rounds than any other division unit, Ferraro told the delegation. He reported that the brigade's engineers have conducted over 220 route clearance missions, covering 15,000 kilometers. He said the brigade has seen the completion of $4.3 million of projects to open schools and medical clinics and to provide micro grants to local business owners. He said $11 million of future projects has been approved.
Ferraro explained to the delegation that missions for brigade units range from combat operations to civil affairs missions. The mission of the brigade is to improve civil capacity and to improve security through teamwork with Iraqi leaders. He pointed out that the brigade partners with a 22-person embedded provincial reconstruction team, which plays a lead role in working with Iraqi civilian leaders.
Ferraro said the brigade has begun a Law Enforcement Assistance Program in which battalion leaders identified Soldiers in their ranks who have law enforcement skills. Many of those Soldiers have been tasked with imparting their know-how to Iraqi Security Forces.
"We're using the civilian skill set of our Soldiers to assist the Iraqi police," Ferraro said.
Ferraro explained that the June 30 effective date of the Security Agreement will not change the brigade's footprint, since the unit operates in a mostly rural area north of Baghdad. The Security Agreement calls for U.S. forces to withdraw from cities. "Independence" Soldiers serve at Camp Taji and from nine joint security stations in the surrounding area.
"Before we leave though, we will be closing four [Joint Security Stations]," Ferraro said.
Ferraro explained that his Stryker Soldiers are staying mission focused even as the level of violence in Iraq subsides.
"We have an offensive mindset," he said. "We're not here to play defense. We play offense."
Holden offered sympathies on behalf of the delegation for two 56th SBCT Soldiers killed in action since the brigade began operating in Iraq in late January.
"We also want to tell you how proud of you we are," Holden said. "We are very proud of you."
Dent echoed Holden's statement, saying: "We're extraordinarily proud of your service and your sacrifice."
Holden told the group of Soldiers that the Pennsylvania National Guard is the most-deployed Guard force because it's "the best."
The representatives said they have been told by corps level leaders about the good work the brigade has done. Members of the delegation also recognized the sacrifice made by those on the home front.
"As tough as it is on you being here, I know how tough it is on the families at home too," Shuster said.
"That's something we're all concerned about, your families," Dahlkemper said.
Ferraro said mobilization of Pennsylvania's Stryker brigade - the only Stryker force in the Guard or Army Reserves - pulled Soldiers from Pennsylvania Army National Guard units outside of the 56th. Nearly 4,400 Soldiers serve with the brigade.
"We have touched every corner of Pennsylvania and probably taken Soldiers from every county in the commonwealth," Ferraro said.
The 56th SBCT mobilized in September and trained at Camp Shelby, Miss. and Fort Polk, La. A delegation, including Holden, Dent and Shuster, met with Soldiers at those installations last fall. The brigade will be in Iraq through late summer.