FORT HOOD, Texas -- Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alonzo Smith, III Corps and Fort Hood command sergeant major, led a retreat and color-casing ceremony here, Aug. 31, representing the 450 III Corps Soldiers who will lead Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
MacFarland recognized that the corps' deployment comes at a critical time in the conflict. With the military campaign only 10-months old, the mission is to prevent the region from becoming a breeding ground for global terrorism. He acknowledged that the ability to defeat ISIL lies in a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, but that this fight is not, "Iraq-part II. "
"Iraq has changed significantly since we left the country in 2011, and this is not the same mission as we had before," he said. "Creating stability in Iraq is not beyond the scope of imagination; we've done it."
To the crowd of Soldiers, leaders and community partners in attendance, MacFarland outlined his vision of an enemy spread across Syria and northern Iraq.
"The organization we are fighting is known by a variety of labels … but terrorism by any other name is just as evil," MacFarland said. "ISIL poses a threat to our partners in the Middle East. It has attacked our allies abroad and it has threatened our citizens at home; here on American soil. We cannot allow it to go on."
Following al-Qaida's defeat in Iraq, MacFarland said that ISIL spread like cancer across the region; fueled by chaos, lawlessness and civil war in Syria. ISIL's territorial gains on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, "have degraded the sovereignty of both nations and terrorized an entire region."
The corps takes over responsibility as the headquarters for a coalition of more than 60 nations and will synchronize military activities against ISIL during their 12-month deployment to the U.S. Army Central Command's area of responsibility.
A Defense Department news report estimates that, as of Aug. 26, U.S. and partner nation aircraft have flown more than 50,000 sorties in support of operations in Iraq and Syria. On Monday, coalition aircraft conducted airstrikes against ISIL units and vehicles near the country's largest oil refinery in Baiji, Iraq.
MacFarland recognized the support that community leaders and partners have given to III Corps Soldiers and Fort Hood.
"Every time our Soldiers deploy, it's the Families we leave behind that bear the heaviest burdens and make the greatest sacrifices," he said. "I take great comfort in knowing that we are leaving our precious Families in the care of our Fort Hood friends and the central Texas communities that surround us.
The first main flight of roughly 130 troops departed from Robert Gray Army Airfield Aug. 29. The remainder of III Corps Soldiers will continue to deploy over the next several days.