<b>CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq</b> - After noting that Iraq was ignored in the western press after the national elections here last March, I appreciated and welcomed the surge of coverage during the last two weeks of August. It is so important all the folks at home hear what their Soldiers are doing over here - even if half the story gets out, I'm pleased, because it is one heck of a story; our Soldiers are amazing. But when the media blitz hit, I also sensed some confusion, particularly among my Army Families, with the public discussion of "the departure of the last combat brigade" and "the end of combat operations." Many Families posted notes on social media sites or called our Rear Detachment with messages for our Soldiers, with the question most often asked: "I hear it's over and everyone is coming home. When are YOU coming home'" Although mistaken, this is a very understandable assumption.

Bottom line - we received a change of mission. During Operation Iraqi Freedom we were allowed to do the full spectrum of military operations - including block and tackle, offense and defense types of operations that come with a war. Operation New Dawn changes our mission to what Army and joint service doctrine calls Stability Operations. Within Stability Operations, our main role now as a third party armed force in a sovereign nation is Civil Security - help the host nation (Iraq) protect their population. Another activity called for in this type of operation with this type mission is called Security Force Assistance: help a host nation security force improve their capabilities to defend themselves, defend their people and defend their territory against credible threats by advising, training and assisting that security force.

Frankly, this mission change is not significant for us. First and foremost, we're professional Soldiers - we actually train "change of mission" (more radical changes than this, I might add) in our major exercises. In addition, we have actually been doing Stability Operations and Security Force Assistance to a significant degree since the Iraqi national elections in March. Additionally, the violent extremist networks here have been reeling from a series of body blows they've been steadily receiving from the Iraqi and U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi and U.S. conventional forces for some time now: their leadership has been captured, killed, or is routinely on the run looking over their shoulders (and therefore disrupted); and their financial support has been clipped to the point of desperation among some of the groups. Though attacks are executed in some number each week, the steady trend is that more than half of those attacks are ineffective - meaning there might have been an explosion or a weapon fired, but no one was hurt. In summary, the level of violence over here is such that there is no doubt in my mind the Iraqi Security Forces can handle the situation where we serve in the north.

However, because the Iraqi Army has been concentrating on their counterinsurgency fight, they have not yet been able to train those skills needed to defend their nation. For my area, this means we need to work even harder now on police primacy in the cities and villages so we can get the army out of the business of civil security and to the right type of training with the right equipment. So when you hear the term, "Advise, Train and Assist" as the main focus of our Operation New Dawn mission, you can understand why our efforts will gradually become more and more focused on "train."

Many of our Family Members were concerned that we would not be able to defend ourselves because of some new rule or for some other reason. This could not be further from the truth. The mission has changed but the lethality of our organization has not. Though our planning and execution of combat operations has ended, we know the enemy gets a vote on that - and fighting has not. It is still a part of all our agreements with the government of Iraq that we can defend ourselves, and we most certainly will. We remain a combat capable and lethal organization and you can bet that if we are threatened, we take all measures necessary to ensure we dominate whatever threat is coming our way.

To me, the big story is not the change of mission; it is the drawdown. What an amazing feat of logistics by incredible staff officers, young leaders and never-quit aviators and transportation professionals. These folks accomplished a Herculean task without a hitch, allowing units to maintain a high tempo of operations against the enemies of the people of Iraq (and us) while fighting brutal summer heat and waves of dust storms passing through our area. I wish you could have seen our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, our handful of Marines, the small but indispensable contingent of Coast Guard customs Guardians, and some of the most dedicated civilians and contractors anywhere in the world as they all worked together, day and night for weeks on end to accomplish the impossible in our area:

Aca,!Ac Move 15,000 Soldiers out of Iraq and bring 3,700 into Iraq between May 1 and August 20; our present for duty strength was about 21,000 Soldiers, May 1; today, it is a few more than 9,600.
Aca,!Ac Ship more than 3,000 vehicles, and 3,400 shipping containers full of equipment and goods back to the United States, to Afghanistan, or to American forces elsewhere.
Aca,!Ac Return nearly $1 billion in equipment to the Army supply system.
Aca,!Ac Close or return to Iraqi control 26 operating bases.
Aca,!Ac Formally transfer $20 million of equipment to the government of Iraq (much of it primary infrastructure associated with the transferred bases, such as air conditioners and generators).

No doubt, an accomplishment for which we can be justifiably proud. But I must end this note telling you there also a bit of quiet pride over here among those who wear a Third Infantry Division patch. It is only fitting that Marne Soldiers play such a significant role in the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the start of Operation New Dawn. After all, it was the Dog Face Soldier who led the charge up the Euphrates River Valley in 2003 culminating in the "Thunder Run" into Baghdad that toppled the regime of a brutal dictator. Now it is rewarding and motivating to know that after this Division's three tough deployments here, this fourth deployment allows us to help our former adversaries work toward becoming an effective and apolitical armed force for a civilian-led democracy in the Middle East. And for our Army Families, there is no doubt in my mind your continued unconditional love and support of your Dog Face Soldier over the past seven years has allowed us to be successful - and continue to be successful - in this mission and any mission assigned.

Rock of the Marne!

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