By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsJanuary 13, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - As more main body flights departed Fort Hood this past week, the 1st Cavalry Division continued moving closer to its goal of having all of its brigades' boots on the ground in Iraq.
On two, Jan. 8 flights, more than 400 Soldiers from the 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. departed from West Fort Hood's Robert Gray Army Airfield to begin their year-long deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 08-10. The brigade's Soldiers are joining their fellow Cav. troopers from the 3rd and 4th brigades who are currently serving in Iraq and departed from Fort Hood in mid to late 2008. The division's headquarters staff sections will be departing in mid and late January, with the 1st Brigade Combat Team following shortly after in February.
As with the other deployed 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers, the departing Black Jack troopers will be performing some final combat skills training at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, for about a week, and then moving on to their forward operating bases in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Hugh McNeely, deputy commanding officer, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div., who hails from Picher, Okla. said he has the "utmost confidence" in the Black Jack troops who are ready to get the deployment started.
"I'm very proud to be a part of this, and we're looking forward to the challenges and understand that there will be some dangers and difficulties, but we're prepared and see ourselves going into a better situation than we have in the past," said McNeely, explaining that the situation will be just a little easier thanks to the on-going security improvements achieved during the troop surge nearly two years ago.
One of the Black Jack Brigade's main goals for the deployment will involve assisting the Iraqi Security Forces as they continue working toward the transition to taking full responsibility for security in Iraq.
"We're looking forward to a smooth transition through our partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces," said McNeely. "Another of our goals will be to support and sustain our Soldiers wherever they are -- at joint security stations or coalition outposts and to continue providing support to our allies with any demands or requirements they have."
As his Soldiers lined up to board their aircraft, 1st Sgt. John Shumaker, the senior-most noncommissioned officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, walked by, checked on each of the troops and asked how they were doing.
"They're trained and ready, and fortunately we've retained a lot of experienced Soldiers who have deployed before, and they were able to help train many of the younger Soldiers who are going over for their first time," said Shumaker, who hails from Manassas, Va. "We feel confident that every Soldier we have here is ready to go."
"One of the things they're going to take away from this experience will be a brotherhood of trust with one another -- knowing they'll be able to count on each other in the good times and in the hard times," Shumaker added.
For Yorba Linda, Calif. native Pfc. Karen Grewar, a truck driver with Company F, Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, the departure marks her first deployment to the combat zone.
"I get the benefits of being a driver and seeing all the different terrain over there," said Grewar. She further explained that her job allows her the opportunity to leave the forward operations base, something that many Soldiers may never get to experience. "We get to have a lot of face time with the infantry and the medics; so in that respect, it will be a new experience.'
'Obviously, there will be some danger over there, but I'm trained and prepared for it ... and I'm really looking forward to putting all the training we've done into place."
With a longing to work on humanitarian-based efforts, Grewar, who has been in the Army for about a year, originally wanted to join the Peace Corps or the Red Cross but decided that joining the Army and deploying to Iraq would give her many of the same opportunities to help others.
"There were some of my own needs that I wanted to meet -- my own agenda, which I found through giving back to my country by signing up for two years in the [military] and helping to improve the lives of people in other countries," Grewar said. "I'm looking forward to experiencing the satisfaction of seeing firsthand our efforts to assist in bringing peace and stability to the region."
With three previous deployments under his belt, Sgt. Mamadou Diallo, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer for the 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div., is no stranger to life in the combat zone.
"It's good if you've been there before because you know what to expect; You know that you'll be working long hours with little sleep. So it isn't that much of a shock," said Diallo. "But with that in mind, you also know what to do to get rid of stress. I always try to do things that keep me motivated like going to the gym, doing a lot of sports and taking correspondence courses.'
'I have a few mixed feelings about deploying but it's my job, and although I will miss my family, I'm not really down because I love what I do," added Diallo. "I feel good about my unit and the people I work with. It always hurts to leave your kids, but you're not alone because everyone else here feels the same way."
Diallo, who calls Indianapolis, Ind. home and is a native of Guinea West Africa, said he has a lot of hope for his upcoming mission to Iraq and that some of his most memorable experiences in theater have involved interactions with Iraqi children.
"We see a lot of positives over there especially when you can help the kids in Iraq by giving them food or help them with getting them other vital things that they need like school supplies," said Diallo. "I understand this first hand because I come from a very poor country. One of the things you take away from experiences like this is to never take anything that you have for granted, and when you go back home you show a lot more love to your own kids."
The 1st Cav. Div., which encompasses approximately 19,000 troops, expects to have most of its brigades' Soldiers in Iraq by mid-February with the exception of Soldiers in the division's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade who will have boots on the ground by early summer 2009.