FORWARD OPERATING BASE CONSTITUTION, Iraq - General Raymond Odierno, commander of United States Forces-Iraq, Abdel Qader Jassim, Iraqi Minister of Defense and other senior U.S. and Iraqi leaders, watched as two Iraqi and three American soldiers marched crisply across the parade field to a display where their units' colors and their nations' flags flew in the wind.

The U.S. Soldiers, members of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division "Raiders," removed the American flags from the display. After executing a left face, the detail marched off the field, with the 6th Iraqi Army Division and Iraqi flag remaining on the field.

This gesture - symbolizing the departure of the Raider Brigade and the commitment of Iraqi Security Forces to the people of Iraq brought the 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. one step closer to the end of its yearlong 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, hosted by the 6th IA Div. 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.

Colonel John Norris, commander of 4th Bde., stood alongside Staff Maj. Gen. Ahmed, commander of the 6th IA Div.

"Together, we have forged strong bonds of partnership and unity of effort, where the Iraqi government, 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 Bde. 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 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.

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 ballots, 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.

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 are assigned to 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. This story appeared in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri August 13th, 2010 at 18:03