KILLEEN, Texas - Commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division painted a portrait of the First Team's recent deployment to Iraq during an Association of the United States Army's Central Texas - Ford Hood Chapter meeting held at the Killeen Civic & Conference Center March 5.

Brig. Gen. (P) Vincent K. Brooks, the commander of the heavily-armored division, spotlighted the effects on violence the First Team-lead surge of troops had during its tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.

"Al Qaeda has lost its grip on Iraq," Brooks said. "It's lost its grip on the population."

Troops looked the insurgency in the eye and broke that hand's grasp, added the 1980 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Multi-National Division - Baghdad, a battle space located at the heart of the Middle East, was taken over by the 1st Cavalry Division in November 2006 and since then reports show drastic improvements in the area.

The murder rate decreased from 440 in the December 2006 to 45 in a year's time, which "a significant reduction by any measure," Brooks said.

One of the terrorists' many modes of destruction was the vehicle improvised explosive device, more commonly known as a car bomb or truck bomb. The Alexandria, Va, native said that the explosive-filled vehicles had one purpose and one purpose only: kill as many people as possible.

During the division's first month on the ground 287 people were killed in vehicle bombs and by the last month there were 13, which is a 96 percent reduction. In addition, because of the chaotic nature of a car bomb, 674 people were injured that first month in comparison to November 2007, the month the division transferred the reigns to the 4th Infantry Division, when 43 were wounded - a 94 percent reduction.

"These are just records, but more importantly these are human lives that have been spared," reminded the commander.

He explained that the insurgencies' effectiveness went down because Soldiers were starting to understand how the networks were functioning and engaged the people who organized the attacks straight on.

In addition to the blanket of security laid down by Soldiers economic growth was important to the success of the mission. Brooks said that things were done at the lower levels, from battalion commanders to first sergeants to privates, to help stimulate the local economies.

"I think he really got down to our perspective as the lower men on the totem pole seeing every single day we were out there doing that same thing. He nailed it that's how it was," said Staff Sgt. Ken Thomas of Utopia, Texas.

Soldiers on the street assisted local merchants in getting their businesses going again. As a result, Brooks said, people could "earn money a different way," and wouldn't be forced into planting bombs or by overlooking someone who was trying to past a checkpoint for money.

"We saw several markets come to life," he said.

Brooks stated that one good example of that economic success is the once Al-Qaeda infested Doura Market that went from having one open shop to more than 400 by the time the division redeployed.

But when it all boils down to the reason the cavalry unit succeeded in their mission, the commander said the Soldiers, the heroes, the men and women in uniform that are in the formations and this community who walk among

"The reason it worked is because of our Soldiers... courageous, aggressive, smart, adaptive, still-young men and women for all over our nation... fighting for a noble cause, truly Army strong - they were all that," Brooks said.

"It did work because of the Soldiers because we were out there everyday interacting with the people, the children, giving them fresh water, the means to support their families," said Thomas, a cavalry scout from Troop C, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team. "Our presence there made it safe for a lot of people so they could flourish."

Brooks played video clips displaying moments of valor that gave credit to Soldiers who, under combat pressure, showed courage and heroism.

One of those Soldiers he highlighted was Thomas.

"Here we have a Soldier operating in a patrol boat (and the) situation goes really bad," Brooks said. "Imagine yourself under fire on the water, on the Tigris River, (you) have to get out of that boat, swim to cover wearing body armor and carrying a weapon, then get out of the water and up the side of the hill... (while exposed) the whole time.

"(He) finds a fence - it's electrified. (He) cuts it anyway, cuts through it being shocked the whole time."

Brooks went on to ask the people in attendance if they want to know what a hero looks like.

"That's what a hero looks like," he said. "They're in and amongst you all the time."

Watching the screen and listening to the words defining her husband as a "true hero," Christi, wife of Thomas, said it was so hard not to cry.

The Soldier and father to a two-year-old daughter named Mackenzie, said it feels great to be a part of the history and success the division has made in Iraq.

"I am proud of what I did, what every one of my Soldiers did and all my leadership," Thomas said. "It feels good, but at the same time it's a shame the rest of the guys who were with me that day aren't here to take some of this in.

"Too bad more people couldn't be recognized for actions that happened that day."

"We don't talk about that kind of thing, but I am very, very proud of him," Christi said. "He is a wonderful Soldier and a wonderful husband."

But for young Mackenzie, Christi said, all she knows is that her father is home now and every day that he comes home she get's so excited.

"I hope I just wet your appetite a little bit tonight," Brooks said and challenged to audience to seek out Soldiers who have just returned, to make that connection, and get the rest of the story.