Commanding General offers insight into progress, challenges in Iraq
In this file photo, Sgt. Sean Gray (far right) observes as Pfc. Khonesvanh Thephavongsa (center) prepares to change the barrel of a M240 machine gun while Spc. Joseph Stout simulates laying suppressive fire during team training at Contingency Operating Base Adder in Tallil, Iraq, Nov. 6, 2009. The Soldiers are with the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade out for Fort Lewis, Wash. The 201st BfSB, provides intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, target acquisition, battle damage assessment, command and control warfare, and broad bandwidth communications support to I Corps. The I Corps headquarters element returned March 14 from a one-year deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Army News Service, March 23, 2010) -- Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commanding general of I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, talked with media representatives March 16 about the successes and challenges of the unit's recent deployment to Iraq.

First and foremost, Jacoby said he appreciated the backing and encouragement from families and the community.

"The community support has been terrific," Jacoby said, speaking during a media roundtable discussion. "We felt that as we were deployed."

Soldiers felt empowered to do their duty knowing their family and children were cared for back home, he said.

"But, it's good to be home," Jacoby said.

Jacoby and the corps headquarters element returned March 14 from a one-year deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jacoby, who has commanded I Corps since June 2007, had previously deployed to Afghanistan.

I Corps handed over its Iraq mission to III Corps during a transfer of authority ceremony March 13 at Al Faw Palace in Iraq.

The Iraqi national elections March 7 put a cap on the successful completion of the corps' mission, Jacoby said.

"We had quite a bit to do, right up to the very end," he said. "It was a decisive point not just in the campaign, but in a lot of ways, (it was) a decisive point in Iraq and for our efforts in Iraq."

Iraqi Security Forces took the lead in providing security during the elections, Jacoby said.

"The Iraqi people had a chance to voice their choices on how their future was going to unfold," Jacoby said. "Our job was to make sure -- working with our Iraqi Security partners -- they'd have the opportunity to do that in a safe environment and hold credible, legitimate elections."

The general said it was a privilege to see the how the election played out right up until the end of the tour.

"We came away from there feeling very positive about (the) mission accomplished," said Jacoby .

On election day, there were few security incidents, he said.

"It was really a dynamic three-week campaign season," Jacoby said. "People aspiring for political office really had the opportunity to talk about substantive events and issues of interest to the Iraqi people."

However, very few of those issues were security related, he said.

Jacoby said the Iraqi political process has come a long way. After election results are tabulated, the Iraqis are tasked with forming their government, he said.

"The government-formation process has a timeline associated with it, and it will take them into the summer, undoubtedly," Jacoby said.

Although U.S. forces maintained a strong presence during the elections, a drawdown of troops has been under way for some time, he said.

"We held a strong posture during the elections and now we're going to come down a little bit faster then we have in the past," Jacoby said. "It's on track and will get us to our goal of about 50,000 Soldiers at the end of the summer."

Throughout the deployment, I Corps left an indelible mark on operations in Iraq, he said.

"We had a tremendous effect on security while we were there in terms of continuing to erode the capabilities of what is no longer an insurgent force," Jacoby said.

However, stability and security are still threatened by terrorist networks that seek to discredit the Iraqi government and cause general havoc, he said.

As the transition continues toward the complete handoff of security to Iraqi forces, the work accomplished during the past has set the table for full implementation and the drawdown of U.S. forces.

"The strategy is for Iraqi Security Forces' capability to be able to replace us," Jacoby said.

The exclamation point at the end of the I Corps campaign was that security for the election was essentially an Iraqi show, he said.

"They provided security for thousands of polling places across the entire country," Jacoby said.

Good security allowed for a high voter turnout, he said.

Reducing the United State's combat troop levels does not equate to leaving the Iraqis to fend for themselves.

"There's a number of things that being good friends and partners of the Iraqis, that we will, of course, continue to look at closely," Jacoby said.

The transition of Iraqi Security Forces into primary security duties means U.S. forces are increasingly taking supporting roles, he said.

"Throughout the year, we saw that being done to good effect," Jacoby said. "There were many, many skeptics, whether that could be done effectively or (if) Iraqi Security Forces were prepared for it."

There was also some skepticism over the United States adhering to the security agreement and being able to let go, he said.

"Security has improved dramatically through the year as they've accepted responsibility and U.S. forces have gone into more supporting roles," Jacoby said.

Iraqi Security Forces taking the lead in combat operations was the most noticeable change at the conclusion of the corps' time in Iraq, he said.

When Jacoby left, U.S. forces numbered approximately 96,000. Combat troop levels are scheduled to reduce to zero by the end of 2011.

"We are on track -- all the processes are in place -- to hit our (drawdown) marks for September," Jacoby said.

Hope and stability remain in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, he said.

"They are emerging from a brutal, despotic regime where the most powerful force was fear," Jacoby said. "Now you have dozens of political parties that are engaged in discourse that are seeking compromise."

Jacoby was recently nominated to serve as director of the strategic plans and policy section on the Joint Staff in Washington, D.C., and to lead a staff of 250 people in examining geopolitical trends and threats while developing strategy and policy for the military's senior leaders. His appointment is currently pending Senate confirmation.

Whether it's a fight against extremism or dealing with competition for resources and influence in a global marketplace, Jacoby said he brings his experience to the table.

"We're probably in an era of persistent conflict," Jacoby said. "The United States, as a world leader, (has) an important role to play in that."

More than ever, the world counts on the U.S. to do that, he said.

(Rick Wood writes for the JBLM Northwest Guardian)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16