The Road to Victory The 20th Anniversary of the First Stryker Deployment

By Staff Sgt. Cayce Watson, 7th Infantry Division public affairs producerJanuary 16, 2024

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Since it’s induction, the Stryker has revolutionized the way our Army fights and wins the nation’s wars. Twenty years have passed since the Stryker’s first trial by fire during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

In October 1999, then Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki outlined a plan that would allow the Army to adapt to post-Cold War conditions. The plan called for the adoption of a flexible doctrine that would enable the force to rapidly deploy and be equipped for a variety of operational environments. This led to the development of the IAV (Inter Armored Vehicle), renamed the Stryker in 2002 after two Medal of Honor Recipients: Private First Class Stuart S. Stryker, who was killed in World War II, and Specialist Four Robert F. Stryker, who was killed fighting in Vietnam.

Leading the Charge

On May 18, 2000, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division “Arrowhead Brigade” was reorganized as the Army’s first initial Infantry Brigade Combat Team. While awaiting their new fighting platform, the Stryker, Arrowhead soldiers trained on light armor tactics using allied vehicles from Italy and Canada.

After years of development, the Stryker arrived.

With war on the horizon, and a new fighting platform, Arrowhead Brigade soldiers had their work cut out for them. They had to master their new equipment. This meant certification and back-to-back Combat Training Center rotations beginning at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, returning to Fort Lewis, Washington for a month, then to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center.

Arrowhead Brigade held its deployment ceremony October 30, 2003.

“Families filled the bleachers and extended down both sides of Watkins Field. The war in Iraq had recently begun and the air was electric,” said Lt. Col.(R) Joe Piek, I Corps public affairs officer, who deployed with 3-2. The soldier’s were equipped, trained and ready to answer the nation’s call.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

On the ground in Iraq, one of 3-2’s first missions was clearing a large portion of Samarra — a city north of Baghdad that had seen little, if any, contact with U.S. Forces. Though they were allotted several days to clear their half of the city, alongside a heavy mechanized brigade, the soldiers worked tirelessly, both day and night, completing the task in just under two days.

“It was during this operation that 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (now 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team) earned it’s nickname ‘Ghost Soldiers,’” said Piek

After the operation, a group of female civil affairs soldiers returned to Forward Operating Base Pacesetter and approached then Lt. Col. Piek to inform him that the women of Samarra were referring to the 3-2 soldiers as “Ghost Soldiers.” This was attributed to their ability to arrive in silence in the relatively quiet Stryker and work under cover of darkness with night vision. Piek spread the word to the brigade leadership, and the rest is history.

Ghost Brigade took part in many firsts through their deployment, one of which would become a defining feature in the Global War on Terror. During the initial invasion of Iraq, soldiers faced conventional forces and weaponry; however, the defeat of Saddam’s army led to the rise of the insurgency and the employment of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The Stryker’s armor was tough. It was designed to stand up to a range of threats, from enemy gunfire to the recently installed slat armor as a response to rocket-propelled grenades, but given the variability of IEDs, it was difficult to predict how the vehicle would hold up. Then it happened.

The first Stryker was hit by a large IED. The vehicle sustained considerable damage, but most importantly, the crew survived. Not only could these trucks bring you to the fight, but they could bring you home. As the Army now knows, this IED was not a one-off experience but a fact of life when conducting counterinsurgency operations.

Word of the incident spread quickly throughout the formation and inspired confidence in crews, Piek said.

In January 2004, the Brigade moved to Mosul, Iraq, where it relieved the 101st Airborne, and assumed the battle space of a division with a brigade of soldiers in a city of almost two million people.

The Stryker again proved itself adept in navigating the crowded city streets of northern Iraq. One feature that proved particularly useful was the “Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below.” It allowed Soldiers to quickly share situational awareness across the battlefield via a secure wireless network. In addition to route finding and sharing intelligence, the system played a critical role in preventing fratricide.

While the Stryker was a significant leap forward in terms of technology, certain things drivers now take for granted were not included in the original variant. For example, a horn and mirrors, which might seem insignificant, but in a crowded city, can equate to situational awareness and escalation of force, Piek said.

These necessary changes, along with many others, are found on the current Stryker variant because of the feedback of Ghost soldiers.

The Road Ahead

If the first Stryker deployment taught us anything, it’s that Stryker works. Since then, several key innovations have been made. One of the most significant upgrades was the introduction of the Double-V Hull design. This enhanced the vehicle's ability to protect occupants from underbelly blasts like those from IEDs. In response to emerging threats, particularly from Russia in Eastern Europe, the U.S. Army recognized the need for a Stryker variant with more firepower. The Stryker Dragoon was equipped with a 30mm cannon, increasing its lethality against enemy light armored vehicles. As with any military equipment, there's a continuous effort to modernize and adapt to changing battlefield requirements. Future upgrades might include electrification, better cyber protection, integration of autonomous systems, or even more advanced weapon systems.