SOUTHWEST ASIA -- When the team stepped off the Chinook ramp and onto the Iraqi military base in the foothills of the Makhmour Mountains, they had no idea that for the next two weeks they were going to be living like Iraqi soldiers.
Troopers from the Field Artillery Squadron "Steel," 3rd Cavalry Regiment "Brave Rifles," arrived at the Iraqi base July 7, 2018, to provide support to Iraqi Security Forces during an operation to find and destroy elements of ISIS in the Makhmour Mountains.
For the Steel Troopers, meals with beans were served with rice and bread, Chai tea was always available, and toilets were basically holes in the ground surrounded by marble -- all details that reminded them they had left the confines of their American compound.
Steel Troopers shared guard duty with their Iraqi partners, ate in a shared dining facility, and worked in shared office spaces.
"They were learning Arabic, their customs, and enjoying their food for sure," said 1st Lt. Tyler Hayes, platoon leader. "It was a great experience for the guys to work together with our Iraqi partners to achieve a common goal."
Steel Squadron's mission: assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in closing security gaps along a shared boundary line where ISIS remnants were evading detection and conducting small operations.
"The operation was a great opportunity to close the seam between ISF and KSF, sending a powerful message to ISIS that they have nowhere to hide," said Lt. Col. Alexander Lee, Steel Squadron commander.
The Makhmour Mountains mission existed in concept only, until Steel Squadron arrived in theater to support Operation Inherent Resolve. Steel Troopers deployed to Iraq in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, working by, with and through the Iraqi Security Forces and coalition partners to defeat ISIS in Iraq.
Upon arriving in Iraq, Steel planners got to work on turning the concept into reality.
"Planning and coordination for this mission began immediately upon arrival," said 1st Lt. Sean Cook, Steel Squadron fire support officer.
"Intelligence gathering and target development have been ongoing processes for the past three months, and we are extremely happy with the results," said Cook. "Anytime we can support our partners with fires is a great opportunity, but this operation differs because our fires enabled the defeat of ISIS through building trust between Iraqi and Kurdish forces."
During the operation, Coalition and Iraqi forces worked to synchronize information and provide support, blending Iraqi and Kurdish efforts through every step of the process.
"Every piece of information that the Iraqis obtained, they shared with us," said 1st Lt. Dames D'Aprile, Steel Squadron battle captain.
"We gave them the same respect. Everyone was highly engaged in ensuring the Kurdish Security Forces had the resources and support they needed as they attacked ISIS positions on the mountain," said D'Aprile.
On the mountain, Iraqi Security Forces provided support that included medical care and water. When Kurdish fighters were wounded during engagements with ISIS on the mountain, ISF provided medical treatment.
"Maj. Gen. Saleh provided clear guidance to his formation that ISF and KSF was one team, and everyone should be treated equally," said Lee. "Maj. Gen. Saleh reiterated that ISF provide KSF with the same assistance that they afford their own."
During the operation in the Makhmour Mountains the KSF suffered casualties, but their efforts led to as many as 14 ISIS members reportedly killed. Many tunnels and caves ISIS used for support were destroyed.
"The operation was a success because it generated positive momentum between ISF and KSF for a long term partnership, and ultimately, the defeat of ISIS," said Lee.
After the operation, Lee and his Soldiers stepped onto the Chinook ramp and looked back at their temporary home before returning to their American compound where they continue to support ISF in the fight to defeat ISIS.