FORT STEWART, Ga. - Major General Tony Cucolo, 3rd Infantry Division commanding general, held a live press conference with local media at the 3rd ID Headquarters at Fort Stewart, Oct. 16.

The commanding general used the moment as an opportunity to thank the community and Families for their unwavering support and to respond to community concerns about the division's deployment.

"My purpose for this meeting is to bid farewell until our return," he said. "My main concern is maintaining communication with the community."

Understanding that support is perishable, Maj. Gen. Cucolo reiterated his gratitude.
"My top priority is to answer final questions and to say one more time how proud and happy I am to serve in coastal Georgia," he said. "I do not take the unbelievable support from the local community for granted."

Approximately 1,000 Soldiers from Division Headquarters departed Fort Stewart for their 12-month tour in Iraq, Oct. 10.

"I want to remind coastal Georgia that between now and the holidays, we are going to have 14,000 Soldiers leave this area," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo.

Approximately 3,700 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Soldiers have already departed from Fort Benning, Ga., and are now in Kuwait and then on their way to Iraq, he said. About 1,000 Soldiers from the division headquarters have departed from Fort Stewart and 3,800 from the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team will deploy within the coming month. Additionally, approximately 2,500 Combat Aviation Brigade Soldiers from Hunter Army Airfield will be in Afghanistan by the end of the year. Another 3,000 Soldiers from the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Iraq in early December. The remaining brigades, 3rd Sustainment Brigade and 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, will follow in 2010, he said.

This deployment will mark the fourth time the 3rd ID has deployed to Iraq.

While deployed, Maj. Gen. Cucolo will be the commander for Task Force Marne, which will be comprised of two brigades from the 3rd ID and units from Washington, Hawaii, Texas, Kansas and Europe.

"I'm going from this pure 3rd Infantry Division environment to this incredible task force," he said. "Establishing an identity as Task Force Marne, as U.S. Division North, is also high on the priority list. We are operating together as a unit in northern Iraq. And that is part of maintaining morale."

Unlike previous deployments, the Iraqi Security Forces are now in charge and the 3rd ID will be acting in an advise-and-assist role, working alongside of them.

"The mission is completely different from past deployments of the 3rd ID. It could not be any more different than the first mission into Iraq - the invasion."

As a country that is new to having a legitimate duly elected government, constitution, and security forces, Maj. Gen. Cucolo said there will be a lot that the Iraqis can learn from U.S. forces.

"All of this is completely new for this country," he said. "They will be going through growing pains (learning) how their armed forces should behave and what their responsibilities are in a free and democratic society where they answer to civilian authorities. Our mission is to help them do that, to help them understand how to operate under the Iraqi constitution."

While he admitted that it may be clichAfA to say "we started it, we will finish it," he said that it is symbolic that the 3rd ID was the first and potentially the last unit in Iraq.

"We began this odyssey in Iraq," said Maj. Gen. Cucolo. "We began this fight. It just came to us through orders; it just happened to be the 3rd ID, but I think we can take great pride in being the hopefully last significant combat troop formation in Iraq."

He stated that keeping busy will be an important part of maintaining good morale and will keep Soldiers focused, help time pass quickly, and give Soldiers a sense of purpose.

"To keep morale up, to keep our edge, we are going to train," he said. "When we schedule training for ourselves, we will invite Iraqis to train with us. We are going to stay as busy as possible."

Before deploying, Maj. Gen. Cucolo spoke to the leadership, Soldiers, and Families of all of the Task Force Marne brigades. In addition to addressing their questions, he also took this time to speak about the impending drawdown.

"You are going to hear about a large drawdown," he said to the Families and Soldiers. "Your brain has to say '12 months.' That is the length of this deployment. If it is anything less, we will tell you. But the mental commitment must be 12 months."

Major General Cucolo said that it is important to give Family Readiness Groups, leaders, and Families as much information as possible, including an overview of the mission and what to expect.

"An informed Family is an empowered and more resilient Family," he said.

In closing, he thanked them for the unceasing support and addressed military Families directly.

"Thank you for the incredible support we enjoy," he said. "We could not do this without the support we have outside the gates or the support of the most amazing and resilient human beings I have ever seen. Those are Army Families -- spouses, children, moms and dads. What they have been through over the past six years in particular is just phenomenal. And we don't take them for granted."

Editor's note: A replay of the CG's full press conference can be seen on Fort Stewart's Marne TV every day through Oct. 30 at 12 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.