By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetOctober 28, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team returned Tuesday to Sledgehammer Field, more than a year after casing its colors in preparation for its fourth deployment to Iraq.
But this time, the Soldiers were celebrating their return home and first time together since beginning the redeployment process in mid-August.
"We achieved our mission and added to the history of not only this brigade, but the Marne Division," said COL Pete Jones, 3rd HBCT commander, after he and CSM James Pearson unfurled the brigade's colors at Kelley Hill.
3rd HBCT was one of the first advise and assist brigades to deploy to Iraq. Its mission spanned across five provinces: Babil, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Karbala and Wasit.
For the past year, the brigade worked with Iraqi security forces and provided support to Provincial Reconstruction Teams and other organizations helping Iraq to build civil capacity.
The brigade "executed more than 9,500 missions outside the wire" and witnessed the efforts of Iraqis to continue along the path of democracy, the commander said.
Other accomplishments included training border commands and Iraqi army commandos on critical and advanced skills, and training nearly 500 Iraqi security force personnel in basic and advanced medical skills. More than 1,600 warranted insurgents and 15 criminals who led or planned attacks were captured with the assistance of the brigade.
The brigade also saw the culmination of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the drawdown of thousands of U.S. forces leading up to the start of Operation New Dawn.
"I was there in 2003 for the fall of Baghdad ... and saw the height of sectarian violence," COL Jones said, speaking of his two previous deployments to Iraq. "This time, we came back and (the country) is what we wanted it to look like in 2004. The Iraqi security forces are taking responsibility, governance is working - sputtering at times - but folks are driving on. Will it last' I think it will to an extent. It will last the Iraqi way ... it will be successful for the Iraqi people."
The commander said patience is crucial.
"When you enter this stage of the fight, where the Iraqi security forces are really stepping up, the tendency is to move forward and solve the problems. But in an advise-and-assist role, you need to have the patience to sit back and advise, assist, encourage and advocate - because, ultimately, it's got to be an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem," he said.
Despite the brigade's advisory role, COL Jones did not discount the dangers of their deployment, citing the 77 Soldiers the brigade lost in combat since 2003, including five killed in action during its fourth deployment.
"We can never forget that the road to victory is paved with their sweat, determination and sacrifices," he said.
For the road ahead, COL Jones said the brigade's primary focus will be toward reset operations and new equipment fielding scheduled for the first half of next year. The brigade will receive new tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and train on Fort Benning's new Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex for the first time early next year.
"We're excited about the renovations that have been done at Fort Benning - a great upgrade - and we're going to take advantage of the Armor School coming in and use some of their expertise to help make our Armor component better," the colonel said.
Huge personnel transitions are also under way, he said.
Approximately 1,300 Soldiers will report to new duty stations or will be exiting the Army because their term of service is complete. So, the brigade will soon be preparing to greet new Hammer Soldiers and families, he said.
COL Jones and the brigade's six battalion commanders will also be transitioning to other positions, with their changes of command scheduled for the first week of January.