By Pfc. Kimberly HackbarthMay 11, 2010
JOINT SECURITY STATION SHEIKH AMIR, Iraq - After living at Joint Security Station Sheikh Amir since January, Soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment "Tomahawks," cut the power to the station April 13.
The next day, their containerized housing units were loaded onto trucks and sent back to Camp Taji. Soldiers spent their last night at the JSS sleeping on or inside their Strykers.
Then, after much debate from the Iraqi government and military, they decided to retain the JSS rather than close it, and the CHUs were brought back, said 1st Lt. Shaun Futch, the battalion logistical officer who handled the paperwork surrounding the debate.
It wouldn't be until a transfer of authority ceremony here May 7 that the Soldiers said their final goodbyes to their Iraqi Army partners and handed full control of the JSS over to the IA.
Iraqi Army leaders assessed that the base was needed to sustain security in the area and keep Iraqi units working closely with the locals.
"We pushed for it to be a transfer on both the Iraqi side and the American side," said Futch, a Ninety Six, S.C. native. "It ended up being a lot of heartache and a lot of pain to make it a transfer instead of a closure, but the partnership really played a big part (on the decision); everybody wanted it to stay."
JSSs and other smaller security outposts were established across Iraq during the 2007 Iraqi surge as a way for U.S. and Iraqi forces to maintain security in areas that had once been controlled by insurgent forces and militias.
As the security situation has improved, U.S. forces have transferred or shut down bases as part of the responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq called for by U.S. President Barack Obama.
"In accordance with the Security Agreement, the bases or facilities will be returned to the control of the appropriate Iraqi entity or demilitarized and closed," said Army officials. "These facilities are able to be closed or transferred to Iraqi control because the Iraqi Security Forces have assumed full responsibility for security in their respective areas."
Although preparing for the transfer took months, the living conditions of the remaining Soldiers on the base were not greatly affected, said 1st Lt. Dustin Deperro, the platoon leader for the Mobile Gun System platoon, and his Soldiers who lived on the JSS for weeks at a time.
"Quality of life (on the JSS) from January to the end of March was excellent," said Deperro, a native of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., adding that Soldiers had internet access and were able to easily keep in touch with friends and family back in the United States.
April marked the beginning of the closure of the JSS which meant the company would slowly start reducing its footprint, he said.
"We transitioned from living in buildings on the JSS to living out of our Strykers to allow the CHUs to be removed, said Deperro. "It was more of a camping trip by then than an extended stay at a JSS."
The executive officer of Co. A, 1st Lt. Louis Harrington, saw the transfer as an important event in the Tomahawk's record books.
"It's a piece of history," said Harrington, a Cody, Wyo. Native. He noted the JSS was where 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt.'s command operations center was located during the 2010 Iraqi elections.
Capt. Nate Showman, the commander of Company A, explained that the transfer of the base to the Government of Iraq not only indicates the rapid progress of the overall security situation in Iraq, it also represents a personal milestone in his military career.
"The last time I was here, we opened [a JSS] up," he said. "This time, we got to close one down."
The historical importance of the elections and transferring control of JSSs from U.S. to Iraqi hands has also left an impact on the enlisted Soldiers who lived there.
"You always heard about it (on the news), but to actually witness it is something," said Sgt. Brandon Blake, a gunner with the MGS Plt. "It's kind of cool to be there for it."
Blake deployed with 2nd Bn., 23rd Inf. Regt. to Iraq in 2007-08, where he and other Soldiers built their own JSS from scratch out of an abandoned meat-packing plant southwest of Baghdad.
Comparing his previous JSS experience to this one, Blake, an Anacortes, Wash. native, said he has witnessed the progress made in the country and reminds Soldiers that the unit's time in Iraq is almost over.
"I'm glad that we got to an end state where everybody could be happy," said Futch. "It's a situation where everybody won."