FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The president and a giant carp made for an auspicious first week in Iraq for the I Corps deputy commanding general for sustainment.
Brig. Gen. Heidi V. Brown put a cap on her first duty week as a member of Multi-National Corps-Iraq April 10 by granting an interview with the Northwest Guardian only days after the president came to town. She chatted via satellite for 20 minutes from Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport.
Seventy-two hours after I Corps took responsibility for command and control of units throughout Iraq from XVIII Airborne Corps, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Al Faw Palace to see U.S. servicemembers and thank them for their efforts.
"The Soldiers were absolutely thrilled," Brown said. "He had the Soldiers mesmerized. He was so positive. Soldiers just reacted to him. He walked around. He took photographs. He shook hands. He signed autographs. It was absolutely fantastic."
The high-level visit behind her, she said she spent the rest of her week fact-finding and "getting spun up on every facet" of her job.
She had already traveled to meet several subordinate U.S. organizations related to her primary responsibility of overseeing the "responsible drawdown" to a smaller presence in Iraq from the corps level.
"My initial impressions are that there are a lot of things that need to come out of country," Brown said, "a lot of vehicles, a lot of bases. The president has said (we are) drawing down to a much smaller force by August 2010. It makes it a little bit of a difficult mission, but certainly not one that's impossible."
The major strategic drawdown decisions, what equipment remains with U.S. forces, what goes to the Iraq Forces, to Afghanistan, and back to the states for reset, are made at Department of the Army, she said, with input from various command levels as well as the logistics community.
Brown estimated she would spend 80 percent of her time facilitating the drawdown process from the MNC-I level. The remaining 20 percent of her attention will focus on detainee operations in support of Task Force 134, the agency with that sensitive responsibility. She is already reviewing release and transfer proposals.
Brown arrived in country two weeks before she officially took over her duties. Her travels have taken her to several locations and put her in touch with many servicemembers.
"The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians are in great spirits and absolutely doing a wonderful job over here," she said.
For Brown, who had deployed previously to Iraq in 2003, quality of life in Baghdad has substantially improved.
"I live in a house. When I was here before, we didn't have running water," she said. "We didn't have electricity. There was no dining facility. (Now) I have electricity. I have cable television. I work in a palace. It's absolutely phenomenal over here."
An avid swimmer since her days on the U.S. Military Academy swim team, she was dissuaded from getting wet in the lake near her house by recent photos.
"I don't dare to even put my toe in that water. There are some very large fish," Brown said. "As a matter of fact, there are a couple pictures of a Soldier - I guess it took him about two hours - who was able to bring in a 5-foot, 10-inch, 105-pound carp. So I don't dare to swim in that water."
Her time, instead, will be devoted to "continuing to get my arms around everything that is the responsible drawdown and start really making headway in getting a lot of the equipment that's here now, starting to move that out of Iraq," Brown said.
"You know August of (20)10 is going to be in front of us very quickly and there is much to do. So we are making the most out of every day. That's really where my focus is."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.