'Steel Rain' Soldiers home after fastpaced deployment
December 15, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Despite accelerated training preparation and an abbreviated deployment, the Soldiers from A Battery, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment can now consider changing its unit motto to "mission accomplished."
The unit returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Iraq last week after President Obama ordered the withdrawal of all armed forces from the country by Dec. 31.
The "Steel Rain" Soldiers expected to serve a full year in Iraq, and even though they left about six months early, 1-94th kept their focus to help the Iraqi army take over its own security and secure a 200-square mile province.
Eighty-nine days were all 1-94 FA Soldiers had to prepare for a deployment to northern Iraq.
The unit was already engaged in a transition from using the Multiple Launch Rocket System to the more modern High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
The deployment announcement to assist Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, was not exactly what the unit had in mind for two reasons. They would deploy to Iraq with the assumption that combat operations in Iraq were over, and instead of sending rounds downrange as field artillerymen, they would deploy as infantry engaged in counterinsurgency operations.
Their discouragement about the assignment quickly changed to gusto as the unit was smack deep in what Staff Sgt. Alex Joy said was a city that required Americans to be especially vigilant.
"Insurgent groups on the outskirts of the city and the Kurdish sectarian violence easily made Kirkuk the most dangerous city in Iraq," Joy said.
"We were the only combat force effectively doing anything in Iraq. It was nice that we weren't just going to be loading connexes and closing down buildings."
A Battery was engaged in heavy fighting up to the day the unit left. For six months, the 1-94th Soldiers assisted the Iraqi army in capturing or killing three high value targets, finding thousands of illegal weapons caches and helping maintain peace in the city through dismounted patrols and supporting quick reaction forces, platoon leader Capt. Mike Neilen said.
"We established numerous checkpoints along the way, secured the city, and for a good four to five months, the city saw arguably its most peaceful time," Neilen said.
"Overall the mission was a huge success."
When the president announced the withdrawal two months ago, the unit noticed increased violence.
"Numerous insurgent agencies made it known they would not let us go quietly," Neilen said.
However, he credited the excellent training Soldiers get and the performance of his troops as the reasons why the battery had no casualties during the deployment.
Questions abound about whether Iraq can protect its own people without American help.
That will not be an issue Joy will worry about, as he noticed a drastic difference in the Iraqi forces from his last deployment two years ago to this one.
"We were able to promote all kinds of cool infantry tactics and hone in on what they needed to fix so that they could lock in their security," the squad leader said.
"They are 100 percent ready to do that."
A Battery will now transition into a reset during the holidays, let Soldiers go on leave to be with their Families, and prepare to head back to field artillery training for future full-spectrum operations.
"Guys are going to be rusty and once we are up to (speed) on that, we will prepare for our next deployment," Neilen said.
Preparing for future operations is very important for Joy.
He's been in the Army for seven years, and spent most of that time training for Iraq and Afghanistan as a dismounted infantryman.
He said he is concerned that as he approaches retirement in the next decade, junior Soldiers will not have the requisite experience pulling lanyards and understanding field artillery tactics, techniques and procedures.
"I think that as we go through the Army Force Generation process, we'll draw our HIMARS again, head back to Yakima, and do our certification to ensure core (field artillery) competencies," Joy said.
Resetting also means behavioral health appointments.
Everyone who redeployed will meet with a behavioral health specialist and have a medical screening, Joy said.
"We take behavioral health very seriously," the squad leader said.