Fort Bragg-based unit plans to hand over Iraq, be home by holidays
December 1, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - According to the 2008 Iraqi-U.S. bilateral agreement, all U.S. Forces are required to withdraw from Iraqi territory by Dec. 31. But during a video teleconference Tuesday, it seemed that if Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick has his way, those stationed at Fort Bragg will be home before Christmas.
Helmick, the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commanding general and deputy commanding general (operations) for U.S. Forces-Iraq, Dec. 31 is the deadline, but a window within the 12 days of Christmas is the goal.
He explained that moving Soldiers back home before the holidays is a priority for him and USF-I Commanding General Gen. Lloyd J. Austin and the entire staff.
"We're looking at every unit. Commanders are looking at every unit and we're asking, 'why are you here and what task and purpose do you have to be in Iraq."
Helmick added that there are some who aren't going to make it back during the holidays because of equipment turn-in and accountability.
"You just can't leave equipment in Iraq or Kuwait. We have to do what is responsible and that is to make sure all of the equipment is accounted for, all of the people are accounted for and all of the ammunition is accounted for. It's a very, very arduous process and we're trying to streamline that process to make it as efficient as possible."
Helmick pointed out that there are about 15,000 U.S. servicemembers still in Iraq, including 3,500 from Fort Bragg units, such as the XVIII Abn. Corps, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and 20th Engineer Brigade.
He said it's important to remember what the Soldiers have accomplished during their time in the country, as Operation New Dawn draws to a close.
"As we complete our mission and close out our operation here called New Dawn, the XVIII Airborne Corps has been a key to any success we've enjoyed. As you know, the XVIII Airborne Corps staff, on this deployment, was the core of the United States Forces-Iraq staff," Helmick said. "As we came in January 2011, we have participated in some pretty historic events."
He said the corps has helped create conditions for a record low number of attacks throughout Iraq.
"This week, the daily attack average (against U.S. and Iraqi security forces) was under five," he pointed out. "Remember in May 2007, during the surge, the high point was 148 attacks per day."
He attributed another significant achievement to Command Sgt. Major Earl L. Rice, the XVIII Abn. Corps command sergeant major.
"He has personally made some significant successes and in-roads into the Iraqi noncommissioned officer corps. Specifically, the senior noncommissioned officers of the Iraqi military and I'm focusing now on division command sergeants major for the Iraqis," Helmick said.
"They still don't have the responsibilities or authority that we give our sergeants major, but they have developed and are beginning to develop a strong foundation that is supported by some of the general officers in the Iraqi army. And that is really significant in this region," he added.
Helmick said the corps has also worked hard with the Baghdad central government and Iraqi-Kurdistan regional government to develop an issue resolution mechanism that has allowed progress to be made between the Arabs and Kurds and the relationship they have in the fault line between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq.
"Since our arrival, just after the first of the year, we've gone through historic logistics efforts," he explained. "We've closed about 70 bases. We're still on just seven bases inside Iraq and we've moved roughly 100,000 Soldiers and civilians since September of this year."
That equates to about 800 people per day and 19,700 flatbeds of equipment in a four-month period Helmick said.
The XVIII Abn. Corps has closed three bases a week; sent 2,800 Soldiers and 3,000 contractors home; moved over 2,300 vehicles out of the country and moved about 52,000 pieces of equipment.
"So we still have about four weeks left and we still have a lot of work to do as we complete that phase of our re-posture," he said. "Everybody here is very proud of what the XVIII Airborne Corps team did."
Helmick also spoke highly of the performance of the other units from Fort Bragg.
"As you know, we have the 20th Engineer Brigade headquarters here and some of their units, who really have performed magnificently and have done more than just what they've came to do," Helmick said. "Then, the 2nd (BCT) of the 82nd Airborne Division. They are now controlling Baghdad and Al-Anbar, where we used to have two divisions of Soldiers, now there's one brigade.
"Of course we have elements of the 82nd Sustainment Brigade with us, and the 50th Signal Command, which is stationed at Fort Bragg, just ended their mission here."
Helmick said a big asset for U.S. Forces is the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater).
"Those guys, with (Maj.) General (Kenneth S.) Dowd, are regional heroes. Logistically, the things that they are doing are really unbelievable," he said.
Helmick said that he and the rest of the corps is looking forward to getting back home and being reunited with friends and Families and continuing to do what they do at the XVIII Abn.Corps -- maintaining a contingency capability for the United States of America.
"Nobody can do what the XVIII Airborne Corps can do. No one. It just doesn't exist in the Army, to have that special capability resident at Fort Bragg," he said.
Helmick said he and Rice flew around to various locations in Iraq and visited the Soldiers during the Thanksgiving holiday.
"The morale is magnificent," he said. "I don't know where we get these guys. The guys that are here -- we talked to Soldiers from Fort Bliss, Fort Bragg and Fort Hood, as well as Department of the Army civilians and contractors -- everyone here seems to me to be excited about everything they're doing and excited to be going home. But they want to finish this thing off the right way. They know that the last tactical roadmarch out of Iraq will be a symbol and they are going to be a part of history and how it's written about their unit in the history books is something that they understand."
Helmick said they also realize that they're in a dangerous environment and will continue to do all that they can to remain safe.
"America can be thankful that they have guys and women like that who serve," he said.