By Walter T. Ham IV, Eighth Army Public AffairsMay 13, 2014
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea (May 13, 2014) -- Combat veterans of the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team will mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Army's historic first operational deployment from South Korea this August.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Strike Brigade" deployed from Korea to Iraq in August 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During the spring and summer of 2004, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's mission changed from deterring aggression against South Korea to fighting insurgents in Iraq.
The historic deployment included the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Air Assault); 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Air Assault); 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (Mechanized); 44th Engineer Battalion; 2nd Forward Support Battalion and elements from other battalions and regiments.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team received notification of the deployment on May 18, 2004.
"We did not see this [deployment] coming and most were looking forward to returning home after the year-long separation from families," said Col. Eric Albertson, the former 2nd Brigade Combat Team chaplain and current U.S. Forces Korea command chaplain.
Following the notification, the brigade sent every Soldier home for two weeks of leave.
During the next 90 days, American Soldiers who served just south of the world's most heavily armed demilitarized zone prepared to fight a shadowy enemy in a borderless war.
At the same time the brigade was training, the 2nd Infantry Division's 210th Fires Brigade helped to close three U.S. Army installations occupied by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and return them to South Korea.
The Strike Brigade commander at the time, now Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, said closing an installation is an undertaking that usually takes years.
"The Combined Forces Command conducted multiple simultaneous tasks in order to make our complex deployment happen in such a short period of time," said Patton, currently the special assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "This included helping to put our entire brigade on leave for two weeks, training for a completely different mission and closing installations."
"Because of the support of the combined defense team, we were able to move 4,100 American Soldiers from Korea to Iraq in just three months," said Patton. "We also transformed our air assault units into motorized units in preparation for their missions in Iraq."
The general said the brigade executed a robust training program at training ranges in Korea but the one thing they couldn't replicate was the heat they would face in the desert.
"We did our training during the annual monsoon season in South Korea and got drenched almost daily," said Patton, a native of Kingston, Pennsylvania. "Then we arrived in Kuwait and it was 120 degrees during the daytime. We dried out in a hurry."
The Strike Brigade moved from Kuwait to the volatile "Sunni Triangle" in Al Anbar Province. The brigade was responsible for a large area of operations in Al Anbar Province, centered on the provincial capital of Ramadi, and bounded by Fallujah in the east and Iraqi desert in the west.
"We were serving in the epicenter of the insurgency, and Al Qaeda in Iraq was active in our area of operations," said Patton.
Serving under the 1st Marine Division and later the 2nd Marine Division, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team participated in the Fallujah offensive in 2004.
"We played a major supporting role in the Fallujah offensive by contributing mechanized infantry forces and artillery support to the fighting in the city of Fallujah, while continuing to fight an active insurgency in neighboring Ramadi," recalled Patton.
During the Fallujah offensive, the brigade also provided engineer support, including elite Sapper units, mine clearing line charges and Armored Combat Earthmovers.
The brigade also enabled the historic Iraqi election in January 2005.
Eighth Army Chief of Staff Col. Tommy Mize participated in the historic deployment as the commander of the 44th Engineer Battalion.
"Only one member of our battalion had command sponsorship, so the vast majority of our family members were in the states. When we received orders to deploy, they came along with stop-loss orders," said Mize, a native of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. "This meant that even Soldiers within days of [moving] back to the states remained with the battalion for the next 10 weeks of pre-deployment training and the one year deployment in Iraq.
"In essence, [the unit] deployed to combat from a deployment," said Mize.
"Following our tour in Iraq, we deployed to Fort Carson, Colorado, and only a few of our family members -- those of Soldiers who were going to remain with the unit -- had moved to Fort Carson. The majority of Soldiers in the unit were stabilized at Fort Carson for the next 90 days, conducting post-deployment assessments and training before [moving] to their next duty stations," said Mize. "This meant that some of our Soldiers lived apart from their families for well over two years."
During the historic deployment, the 44th Engineer Battalion performed traditional infantry operations such as raids, cordon and search, and route security operations within its assigned area of operations. The battalion also conducted more traditional engineer missions, such as cache search operations, route clearance missions and construction of combat outposts for the Iraqi army throughout the brigade combat team's battlespace.
Mize said the first combat deployment from South Korea personified the adaptability, flexibility and professionalism of American Soldiers.
"You can take a unit that is focused on a very conventional fight against a very specific enemy, in very specific constricted terrain and over the course of about 90 days, retrain and reequip it, deploy it to fight a much different enemy in a completely different operating environment," said Mize.
"The fact the [brigade combat team] was able to do this and do this so well is a testament to the professionalism, commitment and dedication of the Soldiers in the [brigade combat team]," said Mize.
(Editor's note: Part one of a three-part series.)