By By: Spc. Kayleigh Cannon 1st Brigade, 82nd Abn. Div. (Advise and Assist Bde.), USD-CJanuary 23, 2010
RAMADI, Iraq -- The first major indicator of the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq occurred in Ramadi Jan. 23 when II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) transferred authority of Iraq's largest province to 1st Armored Division.
Before the ceremony, 1st Armored Division's area of operations, as U.S. Division-Center, encompassed Baghdad and its surrounding communities. The historic transfer of authority ceremony, held at Camp Ramadi, extends the division's reach throughout Al Anbar Province; a vast western landscape spanning more than 53,000 square miles.
The ceremony also marked the closure of a nearly six-year U.S. Marines Corps command presence in Iraq and comes at a pivotal time when U.S. forces are transferring from combat operations to stability operations.
Since its activation as II MEF (Forward) on July 2, 2008, the Marine division worked with the people of Al Anbar and tribal sheiks to help secure peace and stability for the province and all of Iraq. The efforts of II MEF (Forward) built upon the developments made during two previous Marine Expeditionary Force rotations.
"This is a pivotal moment in the history of Iraq," said Maj. Gen. R.T. Tryon, II MEF (Forward), commanding general of U.S. Force-West.
Marines have been at the heart of almost every major Iraq campaign period since February 2004, from the early battles in an-Najaf and Fallujah, along the western Euphrates River Valley which extends from Al Qa'im to Rawah; and continuing with the pivotal awakening movement which many historians and diplomatic experts credit as the turning of the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq.
"Since early 2004, the U.S. Marines serving in Al Anbar have consistently exemplified their motto, Semper Fi - Always Faithful," said Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, deputy commanding general for operations and I Corps commanding general, U.S. Forces-Iraq. "They have been especially faithful to the people of Al Anbar; the focal point of their mission in Iraq. Anbaris are resilient people who have sacrificed dearly but now emerge as stronger people."
As the Marines say their goodbyes to the citizens and tribal leaders of Al Anbar, Iraqi soldiers and police officers in the region will begin working closely with 1st Armored Division, under the continued leadership of 1st Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade) who have been operating there for about six months.
Army leaders with 1st Armored Division, said they are eager to build on II MEF's reputation; Tryon expressed confidence in their ability to do so. "Today's ceremony is certainly an example of continued positive change as we transition and consolidate U.S. forces under the flag of USD-C," said Tryon. "Over the last several years, we have seen a logical and a desired progression in Anbar, moving from combat operations to counter insurgency operations, and now to stability operations."
Tryon praised the efforts of the Iraqis and tribal sheiks in Al Anbar for their courage in standing against tyranny and violence in their streets.
"These things have not been accomplished over the course of the past several years because of what U.S. forces have done alone," said Tryon. "Rather, these achievements are a result of what we have done together in partnership with one another and with the leadership of the Iraqi civil sector.
"We see over and again that we are at our best when we partner together to achieve our mutual objectives and goals working side-by-side, hand-in-hand," he said," "learning from one another in accomplishing our mutual mission."
The casing of the II MEF colors signified completion of the Marine Corps mission in Iraq. As the Marine color guard marched their colors off the stage, the Army color guard replaced them. Maj. Gen. Terry Wolff, 1st Armored Division, U.S. Division-Center commanding general, said the accomplishments of the Marines in the region will not be in vain.
"For many of us who have served with you on multiple tours across Iraq, we'll never forget your sacrifices and all that you have given on our behalf," Woolf said.
He emphasized that his division will match Al Anbar's changing environment by assisting the region's tribal sheiks and Iraqi Security Forces to ensure all Iraqis in the region enjoy the security and peace they deserve.
"Today is one of those transition points in the evolution of military operations as the 1st AD and USD-C takes over responsibility for partnering with Iraqi security forces and the provincial government of Al Anbar," said Wolff. "As we move forward, we understand the importance of this year in Iraq, and the USD-C team has dedicated ourselves to that mission and the tasks ahead."