MATAR AL-SADDIQ, TUZ, Iraq - At the invitation of Lt. Col. Khalid Hajji Mohammad, Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, visited both Iraqi Army and his own troops at Matar al-Saddiq July 17 to laud the progress of several joint operations currently underway in the Tuz Qada.
Khalid is the deputy commander of the Iraqi Army's 16th Brigade, 4th Div., and his troops frequently work with the Soldiers of the Special Troops Bn., 3rd Inf. Bde. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div.
The U.S. Soldiers live and work closely with Khalid's Soldiers at Matar al-Saddiq, a base just outside the city of Tuz.
During the visit, Caslen spoke with Soldiers who are concentrating on governance and stability operations. One of the battalion's main missions is to ensure the Iraqi Army and Police are trained and ready to take over the full spectrum of military responsibility when American troops permanently withdraw from Iraq in 2011.
"You are here establishing our long-term relationship with Iraq," Caslen told Soldiers while visiting a joint U.S. and Iraqi Army temporary base in Pir Ahmed, a small town on the outskirts of Tuz. "When you're standing out here in the middle of the Iraqi desert, it says a lot about who you are."
STB Soldiers conduct short-duration 'warm base' operations with the IA to build trusting relationships with both the security forces and the citizens of Iraq. The operations often include joint missions, including school book donations and hospital visits; U.S. Soldiers usually stay the night on Iraqi bases or at IA checkpoints along major routes to be immediately available to the ISF should the need arise.
Salman Mahmoud, a truck driver from Tuz, knows exactly how helpful it can be to have U.S. assets available when they're needed. Salman was pulling two trailers overflowing with grain to be sold at a local market when his rear tire blew July 17, nearly forcing his semi truck to careen off the highway and down a steep embankment.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Stanley of the STB happened to drive by moments after the blowout, and he quickly radioed his nearest troops to help Salman. Within minutes, Soldiers of Stanley's battalion were rushing to the scene to lift the truck so the driver's tire could be replaced and he could get on with his day.
"In a sense, it's our duty to help the Iraqi people like this during this time of growth," said Pfc. Nicholas Houston of Kinston, N.C., a heavy equipment mechanic stationed at Matar al-Saddiq who helped Salman out of trouble.
"I knew the coalition was helpful, but I had no idea they even had trucks like this," said Salman, gesturing toward the wrecker which suspended the back of his trailer. "I will tell everyone I know of this story, and someday I will return the kindness by doing a kindness of my own for the Americans. Giving back kindness is what makes this work."
Help from the STB doesn't only come in small doses, though. Soldiers of the battalion's Headquarters element have been diligently building training houses in which they will train ISF on SWAT-type operations. Company A is digging trenches and constructing training lanes where ISF will learn how to react to contact with a roadside bomb; all of these resources are being built to last long after U.S. Soldiers have left the country.
While the ISF take the lead for security, U.S. Soldiers is able to get the edge on projects which will improve the quality of life for all Iraqis - including water distribution and waste management.
Stenman and his Soldiers frequently attend city council meetings and partner with local key leaders in order to ensure that all of Tuz's outlying villages are getting the attention they deserve.
"3rd Brigade has worked so hard to establish these relationships," said Caslen. "We could see that before July 1st; the way they've been partnering with the Iraqis really sets them (Iraqis) up for success."