Update on operation Iraqi freedom

Update on operation Iraqi freedom

Never before have Army Reserve Soldiers been asked to do as much as they are doing today. Once thought of as a “Force in Reserve,” a force that drilled one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, the Army Reserve today is a critical and vital element in today’s Army.

Increasingly, Army Reserve Soldiers are being called upon to help carry the weight of fighting and winning our nation’s wars. Just as the generation of World War II answered the call to service, the Soldiers of the Army Reserve are being called upon today to sacrifice in defense of our nation in the Global War on Terrorism. Below are some of their stories.

75TH DIVISION TRAINING IRAQI ARMED FORCES

Amid a backdrop of mortar attacks, fire fights and Improvised Explosive Devices, the first of a number of 75th Division (Training Support) Advisory Support Teams is schooling hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in leadership, soldiering skills and unit tactics as part of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT).

Hailing from Houston, Texas, the 75th has been mobilized since 2003. Most of the deployed team members are volunteers and have infantry or combat arms experience. Additionally, most have served on active duty and many served during Operation Desert Storm.

The first team of Army Reserve Soldiers from the 75th, led by Maj. Robert Chandler, CMATT Battalion Advisory Support Team Chief, and Master Sgt. Richard Howard, non-commissioned officer in charge, currently is located at Fort Tallafar, Iraq. The Fort previously was used by Saddam Hussein as a prisoner of war compound to house captured Iranian and Kuwaiti soldiers.

Upon arriving at the Fort, the Soldiers of the 75th immediately began repairing and renovating buildings in order to improve living conditions for themselves and the Iraqi soldiers residing and training there. They also instituted more stringent security measures. In addition, they agreed to enjoy the same meals as the Iraqi soldiers.

“A typical breakfast consists of a mashed up hard-boiled egg, a white soup-like substance, and bread and cream,” said Chandler. “For lunch and dinner, the Soldiers are given the choice of chicken with rice or rice with chicken,” he added with a smile.

All of the members of the team understand the importance of their mission. According to Staff Sgt. James Mitchell of the 3rd Battalion, 381st Regiment, 2nd Brigade, who served two years on active duty with an infantry unit but never before had been in a combat zone, being part of the CMATT mission represents a good opportunity to help empower the Iraqi people to defend themselves.

“In the first month of training, we put the Iraqis through Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) training, close-quarter combat training, patrolling techniques and formations, tactical checkpoints, and individual movement techniques,” he said. “All of this training is being put to good use when the Iraqis and 75th Division Soldiers go on patrols with the 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It also helps the Iraqis take control of their destiny.”

To ensure training progress, the Soldiers from the 75th regularly accompany the Iraqis on both day and night patrols in the local village and terrain surrounding the Fort.

Capt. Barry Starr of the 3rd Battalion, 289th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, whose role in the CMATT is coaching, teaching and mentoring his counterparts on how to keep track of personnel and equipment, said he volunteered for the mission because he “believes in his country and the decisions being made.”

Starr also trains the Iraqis on the weapons qualification ranges. One of his first goals was to have the Iraqis sign for equipment and weapons, as well as have accountability formations–all of which represented new concepts for the Iraqi army.

“We do not dictate particular procedures to the Iraqis, but we do make suggestions to them,” he said. “They always appear eager for, and appreciative of, any advice we offer.”

Another team member, Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm Stone of the 3rd Battalion, 381st Regiment, 2nd Brigade, and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, said he volunteered “to help out the Iraqi nation and to help get American Soldiers home faster.”

“I also am helping a nation get stronger,” he added.

Although the mission inherently is dangerous, all of the Soldiers agree that the mission is perfect for the Army Reserve Soldiers of the 75th Division.

“I believe this is the exact mission we should be doing. We are a training support division. We train Soldiers,” said Chandler.

315TH PSYOPS COMPANY MAKES CONNECTIONS WITH LOCAL COMMUNITIES

Army Reserve Soldiers from the 315th Psychological Operations Company from San Jose, California, part of Task Force 1st Armored Division, are pushing out into various Iraqi communities to ensure the Iraqi people hear and see the truth about what is happening in their country.

“Today, we went out and distributed copies of Baghdad Now and the new Next Generation posters,” said Maj. John A. Grench, PsyOps operations officer for the 1st Armored Division. “It’s important to inform the Iraqi people of the Coalition forces’ intentions. We are doing this by distributing educational materials and communicating face-to-face with local residents.”

Baghdad Now, published every two weeks, informs residents about events going on within their country, as well as provides news about their own neighborhoods. It is written in Arabic and English by Iraqi journalists, and also contains news from the neighborhoods’ military leaders. The paper highlights the accomplishments of Coalition and Iraqi community members in rebuilding the country.

PsyOps’ newest communication tool is the Next Generation posters. The Next Generation posters depict representatives from the new Iraqi security forces–Iraq Police Services, Force Protection Services, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and the New Iraqi Army. These posters are hung in local shops and businesses to acquaint local residents with their own Iraqi security forces.

Both Baghdad Now and the Next Generation posters are tools used to break through language barriers and quickly spread vital, accurate information. However, according to Grench, nothing is as effective as personal contact.

“Building bridges is one of the primary goals for PsyOps,” he said. “By talking to people and gaining perspective in a local area, we are able to build an overall picture of the region. After identifying problems, concerns and misinformation, we can come back and begin to address them.”

Even given all of the misinformation circulating throughout Iraqi communities, Grench believes the overall attitude of the Iraqis toward Coalition personnel is very positive.

“Most of the people we meet feel good about U.S. forces,” added Grench. “There is only a small percentage out there who are somewhat put off by Soldiers. But that is mainly because they do not know how to react to us. Those people have had very little contact with U.S. forces. Therefore, they have a tendency to quickly latch onto anything they hear. That is why we are here. To make sure they hear the whole story.”

With a circulation of more than 750,000 copies, Baghdad Now is reaching more Iraqis than ever before. And distributing the paper keeps PsyOps forces busy in the streets, allowing them to maintain contact with the people.

“I was happy to participate in the liberation of Iraq, and now I am happy to participate in the country’s rebuilding,” said Grench. “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that these people are no different from our own people. We have the same problems, troubles, worries and fears. Over time and with our facilitation, I hope they will learn to help themselves and to take advantage of the new opportunities before them.”

354TH CIVIL AFFAIRS BRIGADE WRAPS UP BAGHDAD MISSION

The 354th Civil Affairs Brigade concluded its role in rebuilding Iraq during a transfer of authority ceremony held in February. The 354th, an Army Reserve unit from Riverdale, Maryland, provided civil affairs command and control in the Baghdad area of operations for the 3rd Infantry and the 1st Armored Division.

The brigade was comprised of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion and the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion.

The 354th worked with the 3rd Infantry and 1st Armored Division’s maneuver brigades, the Government Support Team, the Coalition Provisional Authority, various international and non-governmental organizations, and the Iraqi Assistance Center and Iraqi citizens to accomplish its mission.

“The brigade played a major role in many operations throughout their year here,” said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commanding general of the 1st Armored Division. “They brought life back to Baghdad, a city of 5.5 million people. They should be very proud of their accomplishment here.”

A few of the missions accomplished by the brigade included the re-establishment of port operations and the creation of the Oil-for-Food distribution system in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. The brigade also helped establish the Iraqi Business Center, restore the Baghdad Zoo, recover museum artifacts, assess the conditions of public hospitals, and re-supply healthcare facilities with medical equipment and supplies.

According to Dempsey, the brigade helped set the people of Baghdad on a course toward freedom.

“You have made the world safer for your own families, and you have made this part of the world safer for future generations of Iraqis,” he said. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve with you in Iraq.”

The brigade turned over its operations to the 350th Operational Planning Team.

“I can assure you that you will see only continued improvement in your civil affairs force,” said Col. Jeffrey A. Jacobs, commander of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade. “We are not home yet, although we have completed our mission with the 1st Armored Division. We still have a continuing mission, and we will proudly wear the Old Ironsides’ patch on our shoulders.”

368TH ENGINEER BATTALION BRINGS COLLEGE COURSES TO THE FIELD

Some Soldiers are discovering that they don’t need to put college plans on hold until after their Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment. According to Capt. Michael Malone, adjutant for the 368th Engineer Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Londonderry, New Hampshire, Soldiers with a master’s degree can teach undergraduate courses in the field after they have been accredited to teach.

Malone, a software expert from San Jose, California, researched how to get classes running for Soldiers stationed abroad and found out about the teaching program.

“I called the Camp Doha education center and found out what it would take to teach. Basically, it took a master’s degree and filling out a form, which was sent to a satellite branch of the University of Maryland in Germany for accreditation,” explained Malone, who is vice president of software integration for Star Technologies, Inc. in Silicon Valley.

With his accreditation in hand, Malone worked with other Soldiers to build some tables and benches out of plywood. They also erected a tent, and then began the process of signing up Soldiers.

“We worked with the University of Maryland to set up registration in the community center. The first semester we signed up roughly 99 percent of our battalion, or approximately 100 students. This semester, we posted a flyer and got about 200 students,” added Malone. “We will be putting on ten classes this quarter, and we’ve also recruited other teachers. Capt. DeFeo, for example, will be teaching a course on ethics and criminal justice this semester.”

Capt. James DeFeo, an intelligence officer with the 368th, is a police officer in his civilian career and has a master’s degree in criminal justice.

Most classes are worth three credit hours and last eight weeks. Classes are held twice a week for three hours each. Teachers are paid by the universities for their work as long as it does not conflict with duty hours.

Malone, who is teaching courses in computers that also can be used to prepare for commercial certifications, currently is looking into ways that Soldiers can take certification exams. He has found a testing location in Kuwait City, but is looking into getting testing centers placed on bases.

414TH CA BATTALION CELEBRATES COMPLETION OF MAJOR COMMUNITY PROJECTS

In the western region of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi people have plenty to celebrate. In less than two months, their water has been made safe to drink, the condition of their mosque has been restored, and they now have a medical clinic close at hand. During a recent ribbon cutting ceremony, members of the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Utica, New York, gathered with residents of the small community to witness the opening of the Abala Medical Clinic, which will provide primary medical treatment for the area. Previously, the residents had to travel 10 miles to receive medical treatment–a distance made much further by the fact that most people had no transportation.

“We’re proud to open the medical clinic here because it is providing medical service for an under-serviced population,” said Col. John Hunfley, commander of the 414th.

While contractors began rebuilding the clinic, the 414th also acquired funds to repair the mosque next door. According to Staff Sgt. Louis Poliselli, leader of the 414th direct support team, this second project supported the Coalition forces’ overall goal of winning the hearts and minds of the people.

“We were able to show that we were working with religious leaders,” he said. “It didn’t matter if they were Christian or Muslim. We just wanted to help everybody out, and that means a lot to the people here.”

As funds started coming in, the 414th went a step further by obtaining enough money to reroute the community’s drinking water. According to Sgt. Amy Fish, a member of the direct support team for the 414th, previously the people in the area were drawing their water from wells containing a high concentration of sulfur, making it unsafe to consume.

“Now, we’ve tapped into a main line that is hooked to a purification system,” she said. “From the main line, we ran drinking water pipes to the schools in this area, as well as to the medical center and the mosque, creating better living conditions for everyone.”

“We are in the business of pulling together infrastructure,” added Huntley. “The work we are doing today is going to help the country carry on by itself after we leave. So, we’re interested in doing the best job we can, setting the stage for future success. It’s just a start, but we’re hoping to be a springboard to continued progress here.”

422ND CIVIL AFFAIRS BATTALION ORGANIZES PLAYGROUND PROJECT

The prospect of a new and improved Iraq continued to unfold as the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion of Task Force 1st Armored Division officially unveiled details for a major park renovation project in Baghdad. Anticipated to cost approximately $165,000, which is being funded primarily through grants and private donations, the project will include restoration of a historic fountain and surrounding flower garden area, as well as construction of a 500-seat soccer stadium for intramural teams, renovation of a pond, and development of a playground area with accompanying walkways.

According to Capt. Richard Cote, 422nd team leader, the project is designed to help erase the negative memories associated with the area, which formerly was a mass gravesite for Fedayeen soldiers killed during the initial stages of Operation Iraq Freedom. The 422nd already has cleared the area and turned the bodies over to the International Red Cross/Crescent for identification and family notification.

“We are trying to get the park back to the way it originally was 10 to 15 years ago,” said Cote.

The project is expected to take two to three months to complete, starting with the clearing of accumulated war debris. Approximately 50 to 60 Iraqis will take part in the renovation, which will include additions such as concrete benches, and restrooms and showers for the soccer teams.

“This is strictly an Iraqi project,” added Cote. “The 422nd is simply coordinating the details and providing the Iraqis the funding to help them do it. Our goal is to put local Iraqis back to work.”

To date, the 422nd has completed a variety of missions in the Baghdad area–everything from rehabilitating schools and creating playgrounds and soccer fields, to installing an Iraqi security force at the Al Ali Bus Terminal and amassing more than $190,000 in preliminary funding for the terminal’s repair.

“In addition, we are getting ready to construct the first National Fire Academy for Iraq,” said Cote, who is a firefighter for the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Fire Department in his civilian life. “This project will give the community a sense of ownership. It will boost their morale. And it will build better relations with the local Iraqi people.”

461 ST PERSONNEL SERVICES BATTALION HANDS OVER MAIL OPERATIONS

After enduring months of intense heat, long hours, dust, and spartan living conditions, the 461st Personnel Services Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Decatur, Georgia, has nearly completed turning over military postal operations to contractors. According to Lt. Col. Steven Heggen, commander of the 461st, the turnover began last October when the first KBR postal workers began to arrive.

Previously, the Joint Military Mail Terminal was manned exclusively with Soldiers from the 461st and its down-trace units from the Guard, Reserve and Active Army. Now, with the exception of just a handful of postal unit Soldiers, the terminal is staffed almost entirely by KBR employees. The handoff was necessary because the Army does not have the number of postal units needed to support continued operations.

Up until the handoff, the terminal had processed more than 90 million pounds of mail, which was distributed by more than 1,100 mail convoys to more than a dozen points throughout Iraq. Mail convoys consisted of one to 12 tractor trailers, each hauling two 20-foot or one 40-foot mail-filled container daily. The convoys were escorted by military “gun trucks”–two or three five-ton trucks outfitted with gun turrets typically supporting a 50-caliber machine gun.

Originally, the terminal, which was opened to relieve the load on the Joint Military Mail Terminal in Kuwait, was in a total state of disrepair. It had not been used for more than a decade and, as a result, Army engineers were needed to modify the structure and to remove tons of debris before operations could begin. The building, which once may have served as an Iraqi Airlines cargo storage facility, was chosen because of its all-important loading docks and large covered area.

In its first months of operation, everything from electricity and water to hot meals were in scarce supply for the postal Soldiers. Meals Ready to Eat were served twice a day, while a small chow tent served hot meals once a day. Sleeping arrangements were set up wherever space allowed.

Despite the long hours and harsh conditions, the Soldiers maintained a positive attitude.

“The only thing that matters is whether the letter or package makes it into the hands of the Soldier,” members of the 461st were fond of saying.

As conditions improved, the 461st got the upper hand on the mail, conquering the logistical nightmare of supporting more than 100,000 troops constantly moving around a war zone, reducing delivery times to under 10 days. The last real challenge came during the Christmas mail surge.

“It was horrible,” laughed Sgt. Janet Resto, a Soldier with the 912th Postal Company from Orlando, Florida, and a transportation traffic manager in her civilian job. “It began before Thanksgiving and lasted until the second week in January. We worked 14-18 hour days, but we never got behind. We even got Christmas off since we were caught up.”

“Soldiers appreciate what we do here. They say thank you. It’s nice to hear that,” she added.

478TH CA BATTALION HELPS BUILD SUBURBAN CENTER TO EDUCATE WOMEN

Working with young women from the Karadah District of Baghdad, Army Reserve Soldiers with the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion from Miami, Florida, have helped build a women’s training and education center dedicated to the memory of Bent Al Huda, a women’s rights activist killed by Saddam loyalists in the 1980s. The center will be run by Sumeah Kokah, a home management teacher with 12 years of working experience.

“The center will be used to teach different people various skills designed to improve their quality of life,” said Kokah, who plans to include teachings in history, as well as home economics, in the curriculum. “It will give the women who participate in the studies an opportunity to better themselves.”

According to Maj. Danny Hassig, team leader with the 478th, Saddam Hussein never allowed women to receive any kind of education. So, the center represents a major step forward for these oppressed people.

490TH CA BATTALION HELPS REPAIR AND RENOVATE SCHOOLS

As the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion toiled in one section of Abu Ghraib, the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Abilene, Texas, assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, worked to renovate and repair several schools in another area of the same community. Buildings that had no electricity, running water or windows prior to the arrival of the 490th have now been completely restored. In addition, the schools have been cleared of all munitions that previously littered both school yards and classrooms making the area unsafe for returning school children.

A team from the 490th, known as GS-3, managed the financing for, and supervised reconstruction of, the schools. They hired the Al-Saniaa Contracting Company, a local business, to perform the work that was needed on the buildings. More than $35,000 was used on the Al-Thabat school alone to restore it to proper condition.

“It probably was the worst school in the area. The place basically had been gutted. There was a lot of damage to the masonry and to the classrooms, and there were Iraqi fighting positions dug into the front of the school as well,” said one member of the 490th.

“The majority of the teachers and students were pleased that we came in and fixed the school,” he added. “The school’s head mistress, as well as the teachers, were all very positive. In addition, the school children would come up and thank us for the work we were doing.”

751ST QUARTERMASTER COMPANY ARMED TO THE TEETH

Since arriving in Iraq, members of the 751st Quartermaster Company, a direct support Army Reserve unit from Mesa, Arizona, has been armed to the teeth. Tasked with a non-standard warehouse mission to store, receive and issue Captured Enemy Equipment and Weapons (CEE), the unit has handled more than 80,000 captured enemy weapons and more than 1.2 million pieces of captured Class II (OCIE/Uniforms) items.

Every day, the Soldiers unload Iraqi warehouses filled with thousands of Class II items, relocating the captured items to the CEE warehouse, where they are entered into a computer database designed to make tracking the equipment more efficient. The database also possesses the capability to issue the CEE class II items and weapons in support of Coalition forces responsible for the training of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC), as well as the Iraqi police force.

Among the many accomplishments of the 751st are:

Outfitting more than 46 battalions of ICDC security forces with uniforms, OCIE and weapons.

* Operating 15 warehouses with a staff of only 25 Soldiers

* Unloading more than 24,000 weapons within a 24-hour period

FLORIDA AND THE 478TH DEMONSTRATE THEIR LOVE FOR THE DEAF CHILDREN OF IRAQ

In April, Army Reserve Soldiers with the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion from Miami, Florida, visited the students of the Institute for Deaf Children in the Karadah District of Baghdad bearing gifts of clothing and toys. According to Maj. Danny Hassig, team leader with the 478th, the clothing and toys were donated by the residents of his home town, Blountstown, Florida, after he mentioned to his sister, Stephanie Moravek, via phone that the children needed just about everything one could think of.

On hand to deliver the first box of clothing was Lt. Col. Wilfredo Rosario, commander of the 478th, who noted, “These are special kids receiving gifts of love from special people in Florida. Our unit is happy to be able to link the two groups together.”

Spc. Halbert Thomas of Miami helped the children open boxes full of shoes. He said, “The children taught me the hand sign for ‘I love you.’ It really wasn’t necessary, however, because I saw the love and thanks in their eyes.”

According to Sgt. Alicia Castellion of Miami, the visit to the Institute touched her deeply. “My visit to the Institute has been the best day I have had since coming to Iraq,” she noted.

“Many of our Soldiers have children at home that we really miss,” said Maj. John Uharriet from Pembroke Pines, Florida, and executive officer for the 478th. “Our visit gave us a chance to interact with kids, bringing with it all of the fond memories of home.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 U.S. Army Reserve

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group