A: Our mission was and is to conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations in the provinces of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. This consisted of over 11,000 square miles and millions of Iraqi citizens in numerous cities and villages. We further assist in the establishment of self-reliant Iraqi institutions, government and civic organizations, and in reconstruction in order to increase the quality of life for the Iraqi citizens. The two major endstates were the successful national elections in January 2005, and the peaceful and secure vote on the referendum accomplished on Oct. 15, 2005. The most visible actions undertaken by the brigade involved our counterinsurgency mission. This included combat operations in the face of the enemy, conducting infrastructure security and urban and rural security missions. We conducted direct fire fights with the Soldiers utilizing personal weapons, Bradleys and heavy artillery. In addition, we conducted thousands of coalition and joint coalition/Iraqi patrols and checkpoints.
Raids and aerial insertions were conducted frequently to capture enemy cells working in our area. As you know, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the weapon of choice for the insurgent, due to the vast availability of munitions that Sadaam had scattered throughout the country. We utilized patrols and other means to identify and remove thousands of these devices before they could be used against coalition, Iraqi forces or innocent civilians. We detained/captured hundreds of insurgents due to our operations. In addition, another crowning achievement was our training, equipping and support of two Iraqi Army brigades, three Strategic Infrastructure battalions, Iraqi police and border enforcement personnel consisting of over 15,000 soldiers and policeman. Through the efforts of 116th BCT Soldiers, these Iraqi security forces are rapidly becoming capable of assuming full responsibility for security of the two provinces. Indeed, the execution of their comprehensive security plan during the most recent referendum vote proves it.
However, the citizen-Soldiers of the BCT made their biggest impact on the rebuilding of this devastated region of Iraq. Sadaam intentionally destroyed and dismantled not only the infrastructure, such as water and sewage treatment plants, but left the area without essential government, security, judicial and media services. This was done to ensure that he totally controlled the region by eliminating any political or military threat to his regime. He attempted to eliminate all ethnic and tribal groups opposed to his regime.
Thus, we were heavily engaged in mentoring, supporting, rebuilding and assisting in the establishment of local and provincial governments, police and police stations, hospitals, judges and the implementation of rules of law, and a host of other essential services.
We provided the means to increase basic quality of life services such as water treatment plants, solid waste and trash removal, electricity, roads and mass media assets such as television, radio stations and newspapers. We even redesigned and established a local “Cops” television program that focuses on the success of local Iraqi security forces. This program has been adopted theater wide as an example of what can be done with a little bit of imagination. Soldiers with agriculture experience even assisted the Iraqi farmers in establishing and funding local co-ops to increase productivity and prosperity while providing additional employment opportunities in a high unemployment environment. Our soldiers used not only their military skills, but the skills they brought from their civilian occupations, to make this perhaps the most successful brigade in theater. All of this was done with the diverse skills of these great citizen-Soldiers. The success of these provinces is due to the broad based military and civilian skill sets of these Soldiers, which are not resident in any active duty unit. Clearly, our Soldiers and this Brigade were THE ones to bring success to this area. The right unit, at the right place, at the right time in history.
A: Although I served with the Army in Germany, the mid-East really brought home how fortunate we are to live in a free and democratic country. The things we take for granted, such as travel, freedom of speech, religion, living in a society comprised of various ethnic groups, and safety and security are not the same here. I think this deployment really brought home how important it is for every American to help protect our liberties and our nation. Each of us should daily show our patriotism and love for our country and not take it for granted.
If I had to do it all over again, I think that I would have not only studied more about the area, but worked to gain a clearer understanding of the Kurdish, Turkmen, Arab and Assyrian issues. I would have been more aware of Sadaam’s ethnic cleansing programs, and how different these two provinces are from the rest of Iraq.
Since many Soldiers and families had never been on active duty or faced duty in a combat zone, many may not have appreciated what it really meant when the Brigade mobilized to go to war. Although the soldiers perhaps had much better living conditions than our predecessors in Viet Nam and WW II, the daily grind of conducting combat operations and the physical and emotional drain on soldiers and families is no different. So I would have worked harder to ensure that everyone understood and was prepared for 18 months of separation and hardship, and the rigors of being on duty continuously 24/7 for a year in a high threat, combat environment.
A: I am certainly concerned about families and their loved ones serving with the BCT, and the first order of business is to ensure that families and soldiers are re-integrated with the necessary support and counseling they require. Soldiers and their families have sacrificed much for our country, and we should do what is possible to ensure their successful reintegration.
We can certainly expect some soldiers who have faithfully and honorably served their Nation to leave the National Guard and pursue other opportunities. However, I think it is significant to note that the 116th BCT has the highest re-enlistment rate in theater. We will approach over 800 soldiers re-enlisting before we leave Iraq.
There are certainly significant financial benefits to doing so, and it appears that our soldiers are taking advantage of this. Once we de-mobilize, soldiers will be given an opportunity to take a few months to relax and get their lives back in order, before again drilling with their unit. The 116th BCT will be re-organizing into a more modern organization upon our demobilization. This will take a few years to accomplish, so I do not see any additional deployments in the near future. I believe that we will continue to have the necessary troops available to deal with any emergency that the State of Idaho may encounter.
A: I promise that we will do our utmost to expedite the demobilization process at Fort Lewis. The demobilization process is mandated by the Department of the Army, and is critical to ensuring that soldiers’ medical issues are documented and processed. Resolution of pay issues, administrative and accountability requirements and veterans’ benefits are resolved to insure soldiers are taken care of. But most importantly, soldiers will receive counseling and training to ensure a happy and safe reunion with their families and re-integration into civilian life. Similar counseling and training will be provided in the state for families, and I encourage them to take advantage of this opportunity. It is a vital tool to help families and soldiers to get to know one another again by understanding the challenges that both have undergone over the last 18 months. Families and soldiers alike should understand they have changed. They need to be patient and understanding with each other, and take the opportunity to enjoy one another.
A: Every Idahoan should be proud and honored by the accomplishments and commitment of their citizen-Soldiers. They have been separated from their families for 18 months. They have spent 12 months in combat. No days off.
Conducting combat operations requiring extremely long hours, with the remaining time spent under constant threat of attack. Yet, these Warriors met and exceeded every challenge presented to them.
They performed their duties admirably with commitment and honor. Many were wounded, and some gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service to our nation. Welcome and honor them, but respect their wish to spend time with their loved ones. They are heroes and are clearly the next “Greatest Generation”. I join other Idahoans in thanking them for their service to our country and the great State of Idaho. Forever remember the sacrifices these great Americans gave to protect your freedoms and never forget the fallen heroes of this Brigade.