By Sgt 1st Class Raymond Drumsta (Army National Guard)April 30, 2012
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- Flexibility has been the watchword for three Army National Guard units moving in and out of Kuwait recently, especially for those soldiers who took part in the end of the war in Iraq.
In a Transfer of Authority ceremony here April 21, the 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, South Carolina Army National Guard -- once bound for Afghanistan -- assumed control of mobile security force and base operations from the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Minnesota Army National Guard and the 112th Military Police Battalion, Mississippi Army National Guard.
Like their South Carolina counterparts, the Minnesota and Mississippi soldiers experienced mission changes, including tasks involving the withdraw of U.S. troops from Iraq late last year.
"You were all part of history," Col. Eric Kerska, commander of the Minnesota Army National Guard's 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, told the departing soldiers at the ceremony. "Each and every one of you played a part -- some big, some small -- but all of played a part in the end to the war in Iraq. For as long as you live, each and every one of you can be very proud of what you accomplished here."
Changes started coming for the Minnesota soldiers in July 2011, when they were at Fort McCoy, Wisc., preparing to deploy. Their original assignment was to run camps in north Kuwait and conduct specific mobile security-force operations, said Maj. Jeff Blowers, the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry operations officer.
"We always joked that our snipers would be running the chow hall, and things like that," said Blowers, of Brooklyn Park, Minn. Then on July 4 -- three weeks prior to deploying -- they were told that they wouldn't be running the camps, but would be conducting an additional mobile-security force operation and safeguarding Khabari Crossing.
Located at the Kuwait-Iraq border and also known as K Crossing, Khabari Crossing was the critical gateway for U.S. forces going into and out of Iraq.
The 112th Military Police Battalion arrived in October and took over two of the mobile security missions and the K-Crossing mission, Blowers said. That same month, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and the 2nd Battalion was assigned a number of convoy security missions in Iraq to support the troop draw down it, Blowers said.
"That's when things starting getting busy around here," he reflected. "Next thing you know, units that were doing one thing were told to do something else."
After ramping up training to learn to use equipment like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, they took on the new missions: clearing and securing routes in Iraq for convoys moving in and out of the country, along with safeguarding convoys, Blowers said. The new missions took the soldiers as far north as Victory Base Camp near Baghdad, he added.
The 112th Military Police Battalion, meanwhile, took on their new missions, which they conducted in conjunction with the Kuwaiti Army, said Maj. Kyle Waggoner, the Military Police Battalion executive officer, who is from Brandon, Miss. They also helped destroy expired munitions, and in March, they relieved the 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery, Oklahoma Army National Guard, and took over camp operations as well.
"It was very short and intense," Waggoner said of their deployment. "We're just flexible to a 't.' We don't have just one skill set, we have multiple skills sets."
Kerska noted this in his remarks at the TOA.
"You were added to this deployment late, but quickly became a part of the team," Kerska told the 112th Military Police Battalion soldiers. "Your mission continued to change, and you succeeded where others have failed."
That work came to fruition on Dec. 18, when the last United States logistical convoy passed through K-Crossing. It was a great day, 112th Military Police Battalion Lt. Col. Clintis McCray said at the ceremony.
"This signified the end of the War in Iraq," McCray said. "The 113th was on duty that day and we had the area secured."
Kerska also praised the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, saying they "had the most difficult mission in the brigade."
"You can blame me for that, as I am the one that specifically picked you to do all these varied missions," he said.
Originally assigned to conduct counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, the 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment was diverted to take over the mobile security missions and base operations in northern Kuwait instead. With training and communication, the battalion soldiers successfully shifted from counter-insurgency operations to full-spectrum operations, said Lt. Col. Fredrick Pasley, the 4th Battalion commander.
"Those were the two big keys to our success, and no doubt the support from our states," Pasley said before the TOA. "We've come a long way."
Shifting to the new missions involved screening battalion soldiers to discover their other skills and assigning them jobs to match those skills, like contracting, movement control, force protection and environmental and safety management, Pasley said.
"Because we're National Guard, a lot of the soldiers have civilian experience performing those jobs already," Pasley said.
Pasley praised the outgoing units at the TOA ceremony, remarking that the soldiers had executed their missions with great success. He thanked the units for setting up the 4th Battalion up for success as well.
"Your information, products and guidance have left us fully confident that we are prepared to execute this mission," Pasley told the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry and 112th Military Police Battalion. "Again thank you, and job well done."