U.S., Iraqi leaders bid farewell to last American combat brigade
August 10, 2010
FORWARD OPERATING BASE CONSTITUTION, Iraq (Army News Service, Aug. 10, 2010) -- Two Iraqi and three American Soldiers marched crisply across a parade field here to a display where their unit colors and their nations' flags flew in the wind.
The U.S. Soldiers, members of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division "Raiders," knelt and removed the American flags from the display. After executing a left face, the detail marched off the field from the direction they came, with the 6th Iraqi Army Division and Iraqi Flag remaining on the field.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of United States Forces -- Iraq, Abdel Qader Jassim, Iraqi Minister of Defense and other senior American and Iraqi leaders watched the event.
This gesture -- symbolizing the departure of the Raider Brigade and the commitment of Iraqi Security Forces to the people of Iraq -- brought the Soldiers of the unit one step closer to the end of their year-long deployment as the last combat brigade to depart Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
By Aug. 31, all U.S. combat missions in Iraq will end, and the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in country under "Operation New Dawn" will move toward stability operations, advising, training and assisting the ISF in building civil capacity in Iraq.
The Aug. 7 departure ceremony was hosted by the 6th Iraqi Army Division and served as both a farewell to the Raider Brigade and a look at the capabilities of the Iraqi Soldiers who will be assuming full responsibility for the area.
Col. John Norris, commander of 4th SBCT, stood alongside Staff Maj. Gen. Ahmed, commander of the 6th Iraqi Army Division, and thanked the guests in attendance for joining him in celebrating what he called, "a new chapter in the ongoing story that is Iraq's strategic partnership."
"Together, we have forged strong bonds of partnership and unity of effort, where the government of Iraq, the Iraqi Army and police are connected to the people, partnered with the federal police, as well as the traffic and patrol police forces, Sons of Iraq, (and) along with the United States Military and Department of State, created irreversible momentum toward a peaceful and prosperous Iraq," Ahmed said.
The 4th SBCT Soldiers' focus in Iraq was on building a strong partnership with the ISF to ensure the security of the March 7 Iraqi national election and improving the overall quality of life for the Iraqi people.
Arriving in country in September 2009, the brigade immediately began partnering with local ISF leadership to gain a sense of their Iraqi partners' capabilities and relationship with community leaders and other Iraqi security organizations.
This allowed for brigade leaders to develop an assessment of what specific training and programs they would need to implement prior to the elections in order to be successful.
Among their many achievements, 4th SBCT Soldiers introduced military working dog programs to the ISF -- a program that had been unsuccessful until the Raiders' arrived -- improving their abilities to uncover weapons, explosives and other illegal items during raids and searches.
The latest in evidence collection and other forensic techniques was also taught to the ISF, allowing for improved site exploitation after terrorist attacks and led to the first warrant using DNA evidence to be issued in Iraq's history.
Raider Soldiers, in conjunction with two embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and partners in the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Army Corps of Engineers, strived to continue the development and reconstruction of Western Baghdad, Abu Ghraib, Tajiand Tarmiyah.
A few hundred feet away from where the departure ceremony took place was the FOB Constitution Joint Operations Center, where Norris and his ISF partners monitored the Iraqi national elections, accessing the latest on-the-ground information from polling sites throughout western Baghdad.
Another key achievement during the deployment was the brigade helping the Iraqi Army expand the JOC concept to include the Iraqi Police, where they could share the latest intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information in a centralized location.
"Together, this collective group has more successes than I can list here today, but one that I will highlight as a prime example of the strength of this partnership is the national election conducted in March," Norris said. "After weeks of detailed preparation, long hours and security in place...the Iraqi national elections commenced with a record turnout."
Norris said more than 60 percent of Iraqi citizens went to the polls to cast their ballot, showing solidarity against violent extremist groups.
"I am confident that the Iraqi government will move forward, and that the hopes and the dreams of a free and stable Iraq will become a reality," he said.
In a display for gathered dignitaries, Iraqi soldiers presented several demonstrations which showed their capabilities in handling a variety of real-world situations they may encounter.
Iraqi Soldiers cleared and secured a building, set up a traffic control point, neutralized an improvised explosive device using a remote-controlled robot and partnered with U.S. Soldiers to show off hand-to-hand combat techniques.
For the Raider Soldiers, the departure ceremony marked the end of a job well done that will have a lasting impact on the people of Iraq.
"We depart having accomplished our mission to the fullest of our ability, with honor and respect (and) the Raider Brigade's legacy and reputation intact," Norris said. "This is only the beginning of Iraq's continued success and forward progress."
(Spc. Luisito Brooks and Pfc. Kimberly Hackbarth write for 4th SBCT PAO, 2nd Inf. Div.)