By Reginald Rogers/ParaglideNovember 4, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In less than 65 days, the entire XVIII Airborne Corps should be home, according to Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commander, and deputy commanding general for operations, for U.S. Forces-Iraq, who spoke with local reporters in a video interview, Oct. 27.
Helmick said currently there are about 39,000 troops in Iraq, many of whom are moving through Kuwait as the U.S. prepares to depart the country that has seen foreign occupation for the past eight years.
He added that next month, the corps' headquarters will depart the country for Kuwait, marking the end of XVIII Abn. Corps operations in Iraq.
"As we begin to thin the combat force, we're also sizing the staff the right way, so that we end up with a core of a staff that's not so large," Helmick said, acknowledging that members of the corps staff have already arrived at Fort Bragg.
"The core of the staff is the XVIII Airborne Corps staff, so we'll end up with all of us probably home, we think, before the holidays."
Helmick said those who remain in Kuwait will most likely be home before December. He said that includes 2nd Brigade Combat Team and elements from the 82nd Sustainment Brigade's 189th Combat Service Support Battalion and 20th Engineer Brigade headquarters.
"The plan is to get as many people home as we can before the holidays and we will do all we can to make sure that happens," Helmick said.
He said Iraqi forces are continuing to provide for themselves -- for their internal and external defense -- and are improving the quality of life for their citizens as U. S. forces continue to transition out of the country.
"Their military is the fastest growing military in the world," Helmick said. "Their capabilities and the ability to conduct operations really improve daily."
He added that the security situation in Iraq is good as violent incidents are at an all-time low and the U.S. Forces' priority is to reposture the force in accordance with the 2008 Security Agreement.
"What that means is that we will have all of our Soldiers out of the country by Dec. 31," Helmick said. "That was the agreement we made in 2008 and we will continue to honor that agreement. That's what America does."
Hemick said that date is now less than 65 days away and U.S. forces have a lot of work to do to deliver on that agreement.
"We've done a heck of a lot of work already and we've been doing it for the last year, so this is no 'rush to the barn' at all," he pointed out. "This is a very, very deliberate plan. It is an operation. It is controlled daily. It is synchronized daily and every move that we make is a tactical operation per se, because there are still bad guys roaming around the countryside."
As far as security in Iraq, Helmick said the situation has improved drastically since violence was at its peak in 2007.
"In 2007, at its peak, there were almost 200 attacks per day against Americans," he said. "Today, we're averaging maybe four or less. In 2007, there were 1,600 attacks a week against Iraqi and Iraqi military. Today, there are less than 50 a week against Iraqi security forces.
"In 2009, we had over 500 bases here and 170,000 Soldiers. Today we have 15 bases and just under 39,000 troops here. So if you look at those metrics, I think you take away an incredible sense of historic progress, because if you look around the world, the United States is still in Japan. The United States is still in Korea and the United States is still in Germany, but at the end of December, we will not be in Iraq," he said.
Helmick pointed out that U.S. military has never done this before and he applauded the logistical effort in moving "a mountain of equipment and personnel out of the country."
According to Army officials, there are about 788,500 pieces of equipment in Iraq, including 23,900 wheeled vehicles.
Helmick said moving the equipment is a sizeable effort, but the U.S. has a very detailed plan that has been in effect for over a year. He said it is important to understand that moving out of Iraq is a lot more complex than just picking up and relocating.
"The point of emphasis that I want to make is that we here in the United States Forces-Iraq are scrutinizing every piece of equipment to make sure that the American taxpayer's dollar is spent wisely. It is a very elaborate system. It is painstaking and every piece of equipment gets inventoried."
Helmick said he wants Fort Bragg Families to know that our Army is unbelievable.
"Every time I go out and talk to a Soldier, it is amazing, the talent that we have on the team here," he said. "Our Army is clearly the best-trained Army we've had. The units out there are doing things that other units only dream about doing. They make complex things look easy.
"To be part of a team like that, and the Family is on the team, is really the envy of the world," Helmick added. "There are other armies that look at us here and I know they're thinking, 'I wish we could be like that.'"