Tuesday, July 31, 2007

VFRG Update 07/29/07

Operation Soccer Ball Underway

Every time I email or talk to Chris I always ask him if there is anything that he needs or wants. The only thing he has really ever mentioned was that it would really be cool if he could get some soccer balls to give out to the kids and some of the towns people. Well, that's all it took. I was very excited that he finally gave me something to work towards. It was time to get the ball rolling!

I contacted Academy Sports and Outdoors to see if they would be interested in helping and they graciously donated 10 balls. A friend of mine put me in contact with one of his friends that was a Rawlings Sports representative and I was given a great deal to purchase additional soccer balls.

Today we shipped out 40 soccer balls and 4 pumps. Chris is so excited and can hardly wait until they arrive. He really likes when he gets to spend time with the Iraqi kids and plans on giving them out as soon as he gets them. The balls will give Chris and the other Soldiers in his unit the opportunity to do something special for the kids.

I am so happy that Chris finally said something he would like to receive. It was really a great feeling to put the box in the mail today...I know it's something that will make Chris smile!

3-1 Cavalry Tests Water At New Well In Al Nijadat

A Civil Affairs Soldier hands out shoes and backpacks to the citizens of Al Nijadat, Iraq, July 25. The CA Soldiers, along with Soldiers of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, stopped in the town to test a newly installed well and pump.

Photos courtesy of 3-1 Cavalry
By Staff Sgt. Sean Riley, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – On Wednesday, a team of Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, along with Civil Affairs personnel, visited the town of Al Nijadat to inspect a recently installed fresh water well.

The well is the product of joint efforts by the 3-1 Cavalry Soldiers and local government officials. After meeting with the town council, the CA team learned fresh water was a major concern and need of Al Nijadat residents.

“We were delivering water by truck,” said 1st Lt. Jeffrey Ritter, 29, Waterloo, Iowa, the civil affairs liaison and staff officer for the 3rd Squadron. “The well is a near-to-long term solution; at least until the Sabbah Nissan pumping station is completed.”

The Sabbah Nissan pumping station, another 3rd HBCT project, is in the planning phase. The proposed $6.3 million irrigation pump station project is planned to bring water as far out as Al Nijadat, said Maj. Brad Domby, 38, Weiser, Idaho, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team project manager.

According to Ritter, the major challenge for the installation was connecting the pump to a power source.

Local workers recently completed the installation of the well and connected it to the local power grid on Wednesday.

“We had to locate the well in a central location, to keep it available for the public,” Ritter said. “There are only two power lines in the city. They had to run cable from the lines to a generator, then to the pump.”

The generator is there to provide power when electricity from the town is unavailable.

“This way,” Ritter said, “they can get water any time they want.”

While others inspected the well, members of the team handed out backpacks, women’s and children’s shoes to local citizens.

The well was tested for water purity and is providing clean drinking water.

The 3-1 Cavalry is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga. The 3rd HBCT has been deployed to Iraq since March 2007.

Monday, July 30, 2007

1-10 FA Soldiers Learn Through Change

A Soldier from the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, currently attached to the 16th Military Police Brigade, Task Force 134, trains on unarmed combat techniques at Camp Bucca, Iraq.


By Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs
Photos courtesy of 1-10 Field Artillery

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – They live miles away from the unit with which they had trained, worked, lived and deployed.

They work in a detention facility doing jobs they had not trained for or imagined they would be doing. But their spirits are high, and their appreciation for the experience is something they will take with them beyond Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Their mission is to guard detainees who are brought to the Camp Bucca detention facility. The tasks the Soldiers must accomplish on a daily basis include securing the detainees so they don’t escape, safeguarding them so they are not hurt within the compound, and ensuring Iraqi rule of law and due process can occur.

The 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, attached to the 16th Military Police Brigade and Task Force 134, at Camp Bucca. The unit was detached from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team at the start of the deployment.

“We arrived to (Camp) Buehring (Kuwait) around the 16th of March. On the 22nd we went to Taji for the counter-insurgency training where we learned our Bravo Battery was going to be stationed at Camp Bucca,” said Maj. Luis Rivera, of Puerto Rico, operations officer for the 1-10 FA. “Two days later, we learned our whole battalion was going.”

Sgt. Marlin White, of Anderson, Ind., a shift leader in Headquarters Battery, 1-10 FA, has been in military service for eight years and understands the constant changes the Army goes through at a moments notice.

“You have to be flexible. You have to be open-minded,” White said. “The Army has been and always will be changing. I tell my Soldiers, ‘Don’t take anything you hear and just run with it.’ Things change and change and change again.”

For many Soldiers who had recently arrived to the unit from advanced individual training, the sudden change caused them to quickly adapt to their new roles.

“My NCOs told me I have to adapt to the constant changes of the Army,” said Pfc. Lucero Hernandez, of Las Vegas, supply representative for 1-10 FA. “It was hard, but I know this is an experience I will never forget.”

The movement was sudden, and the 1-10 FA Soldiers had little idea of what exactly they would be doing. They would be working with a unit they had never worked with before, in a job that was completely new to most of the Soldiers.

“One thing I’ve noticed about artillery Soldiers from my 19 years of experience,” explained Lt. Col. Mark Sullivan, of Huntsville, Ala., commander of the 1-10 FA, “is we are very adaptive [and] we are able to reorganize in very effective and efficient ways. We understand the significance of what we are doing and with a little bit of training, we are able to adapt to the mission.”

Sullivan said, each individual task relates to the entire mission, which is to counteract the insurgency.

“We didn’t train with (Task Force 134) or previously work with them, so there were some growing pains at first. The MP Brigade Soldiers are experts on detainee operations,” Rivera said. “The 3rd HBCT have always done things differently. We are used to the lethal fight. That helps immensely in detainee operations.”

White said the current mission of the 1-10 FA is much different than his previous two deployments to the Middle East.

“We train on how to use non-lethal weapons,” he said. “We also have to learn the culture more in-depth.”

Rivera said the Soldiers all carry their issued M-9 pistols, and M-4 and M-16 rifles, but are also trained on non-lethal weapons, such as batons, tazers, and shotguns that fire bean bags.

“The non-lethal weapons cause enough pain to knock the detainee back but doesn’t permanently hurt them or kill them.”

Rivera said the 3rd HBCT leaders focus a great deal on the discipline of their Soldiers. This training is crucial to the unit’s mission because many of the detainees are in the facility for insurgent activity against Coalition Forces. Discipline allows the Soldiers working in the detention facility to put aside their personal feelings and concentrate on the mission at hand, Rivera said.

Cpl. Brandon Rhodes, of Kalamazoo, Mich., Battery A, 1-10 FA, said there are certain challenges he faces in his new job as a quick reaction force Soldier. Rhodes and his team are responsible for reinforcing the detention facility, which includes controlling riots, reacting to escapes, and controlling the movement of detainees. They must always be ready, because an incident requiring QRF to respond could break out at any given time.

“A huge challenge is learning to be patient,” he said. “In our job, there is a lot of waiting for something to happen. We aren’t watching the best people in the world, and we have to be patient with them as well.”

“If you can deal with this, you can deal with a lot of things in the world,” White added.

Hernandez said her job faces challenges as well. As a supply representative, she must supply the detainees with items such as clothing and personal hygiene products.

“If we don’t get the supplies they need, that could cause a riot within the compound,” she said.

White, who serves as a mediator between the detainees and the sergeant of the guard of the detention facility, said cultural differences are a large part of the difficulties between the Soldiers and detainees.

“We have to know how to react to their culture and we have to know what it all means. We also have to know how to follow their culture,” he said. “For example, when they pray, they don’t like to have any noise. If we make noise, that could cause problems in the compound.”

Rhodes sees the cultural interaction as more of a reward. He explained how constantly interacting with another culture allows him to understand the differences between people. He understands that doing things differently to get the same result does not make it wrong.

Hernandez, who is working toward a degree in criminal justice, said she thinks the experience she gains from the detention facility will prepare her for her goal of becoming a police officer.

The stress of their unique mission does weigh heavily on the Soldiers of the 1-10 FA at Camp Bucca. Most of the Soldiers agree that it is, in fact, the experience of a lifetime. They are learning something new every day and contributing to the overall mission of the military.

“In the small picture, it’s just a job,” Rhodes said, “but in the big picture, it’s nice to know I’m contributing the security of my family and the nation.”

The 1-10 FA will be replaced at Camp Bucca and will rejoin the 3rd HBCT at FOB Hammer. Until then, they will remain a significant part of the 16th MP Brigade, TF 134, Sullivan said.

“We are recognized by the MPs as honorary MPs,” Sullivan said. “They recognize what we bring to them and they understand what we bring to the fight. We are constantly doing the right thing.”

Iraqi's Bid For contracts

Package of 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers helping Iraqis form new and lasting business relationships. Produced by Sgt. Crystal Cook.

1-15 Inf. Helps Iraqis During Free Health Clinic

1st Lt. Shawn M. Thompson, battalion physician assistant, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, checks an Iraqi boy’s breathing July 28, in Wahida. Photo by Staff Sgt. Carlos J. Lazo, 3rd Inf. Div.

By Staff Sgt. Carlos J. Lazo, 3rd Inf. Div.

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY — Using a school in the city of al Wahida, Soldiers from a Fort Bragg, N.C., Civil Affairs battalion attached to the 3rd Infantry Divsion set up a one-day clinic for Iocal residents July 28.

Known as a cooperative medical engagement, the operation requires Coalition and Iraqi forces to come together and provide medical treatment in prescribed areas, said Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Weston, special operations medical noncommissioned officer, Civil Affairs Team Alpha 712th, Company A, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion.

Physician assistants and unit medics out of COP Cleary diagnosed and provided medicine to those in need.

“It was open to anybody, anybody who came,” said Capt. Teri Gurrola, physician assistant, Company C, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Citizens of all ages showed up seeking treatment with various illnesses and injuries.

“We’re able to treat pretty much everything they bring us, with the exception of dentistry issues and minor surgeries,” said Weston, a native of Tacoma, Wash. Weston attributes the unit’s broad capabilities to comprehensive pre-deployment planning.

Iraqi police attended the CME to assist the Company C Soldiers with maintaining security. Interpreters helped bridge the language barrier by translating for the Iraqis and explaining the correct doses of medicine required. They also brought their families for medical care.

Local Iraqi medical personnel also participated in the cooperative medical engagement.

“We had a couple of nursing students who came out,” Weston said. “We arranged for those (personnel) to come out through the mayor of al Wahida.

“The people are very ready to come and be treated by Coalition Forces medical providers, and that’s great,” Weston said. “But at the same time we want them to believe that their own providers and government can take care of them as well.”

Medical personnel examined nearly 150 people during the engagement, and each physician treated 45-50 patients.

“Almost every person who left came over and literally touched me to thank me, and I knew that they appreciated us being there,” Gurrola said.

This is the fourth such operation the brigade has conducted, with an average of 150 to 200 people showing up each time to seek treatment, Weston said.

Along with the treatment and medicine, children in the community were provided with school supplies, toothbrushes and soccer balls.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

My Hero

When Freedom needed heroes to answer duty’s call,
You packed your bags and left home for the greater good of all.

And though I can’t be with you, I still do understand,
You have an important job to do in a distant foreign land.

You represent so many things, even though you are not here,
Courage, Faith and Honor, the message is quite clear.

So until you job is finished and you’re back home to stay,
Remember, you’re my hero and in my prayers each day.

Friday, July 27, 2007

1-15 Inf. Conducts Sheik Meeting

Capt. Richard Thompson, Columbus, Ga., commander of Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, sits down for a meeting with local sheiks from the Salman Pak area, July 18, at the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade National Police Headquarters. Photo by Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER —A Task Force Marne officer met with several local sheiks recently to discuss quelling terrorism in the Salman Pak region.

Capt. Rich Thompson, commander, Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, met the sheiks at the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade national police headquarters building.

This was the first meeting of its kind in the area.

The unit has encountered improvised explosive devices along main routes in the vicinity of Combat Outpost Cahill, where Company B resides. Thompson, a native of Columbus, Ga., coordinated the meeting to counter IED cells in the area.

“This was a great meeting disclosing a lot of useful information about our area,” Thompson said.

Company B, 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Benning, Ga.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live With Major Joe Sowers 07/26/07

Live with Major Joe Sowers

Hammer Times

Partners Disrupting Accelerant Flow

Blackanthem Military News, FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment have new partners in their efforts to stop accelerant flow into Baghdad.

The 2nd Battalion Wassit Emergency Response Force is now working alongside its Coalition counterparts from the “Dragon Battalion” to establish traffic control points to disrupt the flow of bomb-making material along major thoroughfares southeast of Baghdad.

The 1-15th Inf. Regt., 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Iraq in March 2007 and immediately established combat outposts among the communities southeast of Baghdad. As a part of the surge, the Soldiers of 1-15th Inf. Regt. assumed the mission of hindering the flow of insurgents and bomb-making material as they moved north.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Chat With Chris

This evening I got home from work and I did my usual...got on the computer to see what I could find out about the guys. I was quite shocked when I found Chris online and was able to chat for a little while. What a great treat! I was so excited. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to chat with him online since he got to Iraq.

He is doing great and has been on the move a lot lately. He was in great spirits and said he thinks his body is getting used to the high temperatures. He was quite excited that they had gotten the Starbucks coffee from the Starbucks in Flordia and the Middlebrooks. The guys loved it and wanted everyone involved to know how much they appreciate what you guys are doing for them.

He has been so busy lately and said he has been running around like a chicken with his head chopped off. He's not complaining though because it is making time go by very quickly. He was very happy that about two weeks ago he got a chance to see Captain McGrue. He said McGrue was having some problems with his had that he got shot several months ago and was seeking treatment. We are all praying that there is no permanent nerve damage or other problems that can't be resolved.

I am so thankful that everytime we hear from Chris he always assures us he is doing great and things are good where he is. I couldn't imagine if he was miserable and hated what he was doing. I think we would both be going crazy. He continues to like his job a lot and is making the most out of his tour. I thank God for that everyday!

It absolutely makes my day when I hear from Chris and to chat with him online was really awesome. My everyday is spent hoping to get an email or call or find out something about what he is doing. When we are fortunate enough to get news from him it puts us on top of the world!

1-10 Breaks Out The Big Guns

An M109 Paladin Howitzer belonging to 1-10 FA fires during a mission at FOB Hammer.

FOB HAMMER — The Soldiers say their job is fairly simple. The effects, however, will leave a lasting impression on everything in their path.

The platoon-sized element from 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery working on FOB Hammer is responsible for three main tasks, said Staff Sgt. Michael Clark of Greenville, N.C., an artilleryman for 1-10 FA. The unit’s duties include conducting counter-fi re missions, terrain denial missions and fire for effect missions.

“We kill bad guys,” said Sgt. Ralph Harrison, of Columbus, Ga. “We conduct counter-fire operations which are,when we get mortared; we shoot back at the point of origin.”

Sgt. Christopher Shores, of Winston-Salem, N.C., an artilleryman for 1-10 FA, said terrain denial missions consist of firing on an area to deter insurgents from conducting enemy activity in that location.

“Fire for effect missions,” he said,“are missions where we are aiming at one specific target and we hit that target and destroy it.” Harrison said his unit is responsible for destroying boats found along the Tigris River.

The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team suspects these boats are used to transport weapons and munitions into Baghdad. The residents told Coalition Forces they do not use the river.

To effectively complete a mission,Soldiers must take the proper steps in a short period of time. On any operation where a 155 mm round is fired from the M109 Paladin Howitzer, the air and ground must be cleared of any friendly forces and unintended targets, Harrison said. When the area is cleared a call is made to the line crew on FOB Hammer.

When the Paladin crew receives the mission, they assume their positions. Information that the team needs for an accurate shot pops up on a screen inside the Paladin. The crew loads a 155 mm round into the tube, the gunner puts powder in to expel the round and verifies the data. The chief reads the data and sets the gun on the target.

“The chief overlooks everything in the operation on the ground,” said Clark, a crew chief. “If anything goes wrong, it all comes back to me.”

Each crew spends anywhere from 12 to 24 hours on the line. They are always on their toes, prepared for any mission from the 3rd HBCT headquarters. The job requires each crew to be stationary, but the product of their efforts can be seen through the camera of a patrolling unmanned aerial vehicle.

Shores said he prefers that the crew stays on FOB Hammer to get their job done. “The best part about our job is we can destroy a target without actually
having to be there,” he said.

Sometimes the unit is overlooked because they are such a small element,but Clark said 1-10 FA is wanted and needed in 3rd HBCT.

“They see us hit the target from the UAV, they hear the boom,” he said. “I think they are happy to have us around.

1-15 Inf. Conducts Sheik Meeting

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – A Task Force Marne officer met with several local sheiks July 18 to discuss quelling terrorism in the Salman Pak region.

Capt. Rich Thompson, commander, Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, met the sheiks at the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade national police headquarters building.

This was the first meeting of its kind in the area.

The unit has encountered improvised explosive devices along main routes in the vicinity of Combat Outpost Cahill, where Company B resides. Thompson, a native of Columbus, Ga., coordinated the meeting to counter IED cells in the area.

“This was a great meeting disclosing a lot of useful information about our area,” Thompson said.

Company B, 1-15 Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Benning, Ga.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

3rd HBCT Leaders Meet With Mada'in Qada Mayor

Council members express their concerns about Salman Pak to team leaders of 3rd (Heavy) Brigade Combat Team, leaders of the Mada'in Qada council and the mayor at the national police headquarters in Jisr Diyala, Iraq, July 18.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Comabt Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs

COMBAT OUTPOST CASHE, Iraq – Leaders of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team met with the Mada’in Qada mayor and council members July 18 at the National Police Headquarters in Jisr Diyala.

The group met to discuss security, sanitation, supplies, and the relocation of the national police in Salman Pak.

“I am very happy for everyone being here today,” Mayor Abu Bahar said through a translator. “But I am in very much pain and suffering for the people of Salman Pak.”

The main concern, according to Capt. Leon Mathais from the Virgin Islands and the intelligence officer for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, is the conflict between the Sunni and Shia in the area.

“They have to get past the Sunni and Shia tension,” Mathais said. “They have to understand that they are all working toward the same good. They all want the same things for their families.”

Communication between the two groups is a problem that needs to be addressed in order to bring reconciliation to Salman Pak, said Mathais.

“Everyone can’t be leaders,” he said. “There has to be mutual communication between each side. Once there is open dialogue, the area will get better.”

Currently, the police securing Salman Pak are living and working out of schools, libraries and fuel stations. The local people feel the police are disrupting their community, said Mathais.

“Because there is no designated place for the police to live, they are living off the community,” explained Mathais. “The (residents) see the police who live at the fuel station using the fuel for their own purposes and feel they do not have access to it.”

The meeting discussed ways to alleviate the local citizens’ concerns. Plans have been made to move the police out of the public buildings. The mayor made a short-term goal of delivering bottles of water to the Salman Pak citizens on a daily basis as a priority. There is also a project to clean Salman Pak’s roads.

“Cleaning the streets will do two things,” Mathais said. “It will give them pride in their town and it will also help coalition forces better identify (improvised explosive devices).”

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., encouraged the Mada’in Qada leaders by telling them he has never seen a better-run government than theirs.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We are not there yet but working together we will get there.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Passport/Visa Information

Latest update on passports indicates it could take up to 6 months to obtain. I applied for mine back in April and haven't heard anything yet. It is advised to start the process in the unfortunate case of your loved one being wounded and sent to Germany. The last thing we would need in a case like that would be to not have a passport. It's not something we want to think about but it is necessary to be prepared.

1. Soldiers and Family Members are advised to immediately apply for passports upon notification of OCONUS (Overseas) assignment to avoid extended delays in travel for Family Members.

2. Due to requirements of the Global War on Terrorism, the State Dept and Foreign Country Consulates are required to perform more extensive background checks, including Military and Military Family Members. The background checks are causing significant backlogs in the State Dept and Foreign Country Consulates to process Passport and Visa applications. Due to the new requirements, passports with Visas can take as much as 5 to 6 months to obtain.

3. This situation is adversely impacting soldiers and Family Members. Soldiers can enter most countries using his/her Military ID Card and Orders. However, Family Members cannot enter the country without Passport and Visa/Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stamp. As a result, Family Members are having to stay behind and retain quarters, incur unscheduled/rescheduled HHG/POV moves and travel until their Passports and Visas arrive.

4. In order to make the best of the situation, Soldiers and Family Members are advised to apply for a passport immediately upon notification of OCNUS (Overseas) assignment. Any delay in submitting for a passport/Visa will only serve to worsen the impact of delays on Family Members. Unfortunately, there is nothing local installation Travel Offices can do to influence the situation. Control of the situation resides solely with the State Department. DOD is aware of the problem and is working the issue with the State Department, however, it appears these timeframes will remain in place for the near term

Saturday, July 21, 2007

3-1 Cavalry Honors Fallen Hero

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq – Soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment honored a fallen hero in a memorial service held at Patrol Base Comanche July 18.

Sgt. Allen A. Greka, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, was killed July 13 while on a dismounted patrol.

Friends described Greka, 29, as an all around funny guy who always had a smile on his face. He was an avid musician with a passion for the drums.

Although he was funny and high-spirited, he took his job as a leader seriously and did not wait for his promotion to a noncommissioned officer to take the lead in various missions, according 3-1 Cav. Soldiers.

Soldiers further explained he was also a great husband and father to his wife and two daughters, always talking about them when he wasn’t discussing the mission.

“He was the epitome of a leader and an incredible father and husband,” said Lt. Col. John Kolesheski, squadron commander, 3-1 Cav.

Greka was an extremely hard worker who excelled at his job as a cavalry Soldier and leader, said Capt. Darrel Melton, Troop C commander.

“He was – no, he is one of the best men I have ever served with in my 10 years in the Army,” Melton said. “If you ever wanted anything done, he could and would get it done to the highest of standards.”

Melton said Greka had many friends in the unit and cared deeply for any and every Soldier who served over, with, and under him regardless of who they were.

“In order to fully understand and appreciate our love for Sgt. Greka, let me start from the beginning,” said 1st Lt. Ross Pixler, Greka’s platoon leader.

Pixler told multiple stories of his encounters with Greka. They were mostly humorous accounts detailing numerous occasions when he would approach Greka at the most inopportune times.

“There is not one man in this platoon who could say he didn’t make them laugh at his expense,” Pixler told the audience. “I feel honored to have shared, in a small way, a portion of his life.”

The final comments from those who knew him best came from Spc. Randy Leverett, a Soldier who served under Greka.

“He was a friend who will be remembered,” Leverett said. “To Comanche Troop, Sgt. Greka will always be with us on missions until we go home.”

Greka, of Alpena, Mich., was assigned to the Georgia based 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s (Heavy) Troop C, 3-1 Cav. as a team leader. The 3rd HBCT is part of the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Benning. Greka is survived by his mother and father, Patti and Steve Greka, his wife, Jennifer, and his daughters, Rose and Lilith.

Friday, July 20, 2007

3 HBCT Nabs Top Insurgent

3rd HBCT nabs top insurgent
By Multi-National Division - Center PAO

Blackanthem Military News, BAGHDAD, Iraq — Soldiers from the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment detained one of the Multi-National Division-Center’s most wanted insurgents, along with four other individuals early Friday morning near Jisr Diyala.

Leaders from 3-1 Cav. gained intelligence early Friday morning that the known insurgent and a number of his associates were within their area of operations.

Soldiers conducted a surprise raid and captured the individual with no U.S. forces injuries or damage to equipment, by surrounding the house following a 2-mile walk into the suspected insurgent’s neighborhood. It was well-known to the Soldiers that the individual was on the look out for Army aircraft and would move if he heard helicopters approaching.

The detained “high-value individual” is believed to be responsible for the recent increase in explosively formed projectile improvised explosive devices and indirect fire attacks against Coalition Forces east of Baghdad. He is also suspected of intimidating Iraqis that work with U.S. forces, as well as, kidnapping and murdering rivals of his cell.

In addition to his terrorist activities, the detainee is a member of an organized crime network in the Mada’in Qada, which is part of the Baghdad province. Coalition Forces believe the detainee has extorted the local population through his water distribution company and gas station enterprises.

The 3-1 Cav. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team and is from Fort Benning, Ga. The unit deployed to Iraq in March 2007.

3-1 Cavalry Commander Meets With Sheiks

A local sheik poses a question about projects to Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, from Loudon, Tenn., commander of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, at a meeting between local sheiks and leaders from the Iraqi army and Coalition Forces at Forward Operating Base Hammer July 17. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller, 1st COMCAM Squadron)

By Staff Sgt. Sean Riley, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs
Jul 19, 2007 - 6:08:21 PM

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Lt. Col. John Kolasheski, commander, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team's 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, along with civil affairs leaders, met with sheiks and tribal leaders throughout the brigade's area of operations here Tuesday.

The main objective of the meeting was to discuss future and ongoing civil projects for the Mada'in Qada.

Among many projects, the leaders talked about improving water, local schools, garbage and sanitation needs. The sheiks expressed their concerns to Kolasheski, who agreed to facilitate the sheiks' prioritization of the necessary projects.

During the meeting, Kolasheski, a native of Loudon, Tenn., agreed to release nine detainees to the custody of the sheiks.

The 3-1 Cavalry is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Iraqi Police Station Opens In Wahida

New Iraqi Police station opens in Wahida
Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd HBCT Public Affairs

COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq — The Wahida City Council opened a new police station in Wahida July 17 in the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s area of operation.

When Lt. Col. Jack Marr, 39, Minneapolis, Minn, 1-15 Inf. commander, Lt. Col. Ryan Kuhn, 43, Clarks, Neb., 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s deputy commanding officer, and Capt. Ravindra Wagh, 36, Waterford, Mich., commander of Company E, 1st Battalion, 125 Inf. Regiment, arrived at the new police station, they were greeted by a mob of excited Iraqi Policemen and local leaders.

The visit began with a tour of the new facility followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony signifying the end of the project and the opening of a brand new Iraqi Police station.

On paper, the project began in October 2006 with a request for a new Iraqi Police station. According to Wagh, who headed the project from start to finish, the Iraqi Police of Wahida received the title to an empty lot and the appropriate funds to get the project underway.

Wagh said the former Wahida Police station, which was co-located with a mosque, did not have the resources fit for a unit whose main mission is providing security to Wahida.

“The old police station was right down the road from the new one,” Wagh said. “It had three rooms and the front of the building was a mosque. It wasn’t fit for jurisdiction in Wahida.”

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, members of the Wahida Police, along with leaders of the community and Coalition Forces, sat down for a conference to discuss the new station.

“It is very nice to have the new police station here (in Wahida,)” Mr. Jawad Khadum, chairman of the Wahida city council said through a translator. “I would like for you to all be equal, to work as one, to serve the community and enforce the law.” He then saluted the policemen for a job well done on the project.

Lt. Col. Kareem, the station commander, also spoke at the conference. He thanked the Coalition Forces for their efforts on the project. He also reminded his policemen that they have a brand new station and encouraged them to maintain the station as it stands today.

According to Wagh, the project is a symbol the citizens of Wahida can see that proves the government is capable of listening to the requests of the community and spending the $3.5 million it took to fund the project on the community.

“This government has a commitment to security,” he said. “Many people believed the government was getting all this money and they would never see it. This project proves the government is spending the money on their communities.”

Wagh, who has been in Iraq since August 2006, said he was privileged to be able to see the new Iraqi Police station project from start to finish.

“The problem with many of these projects is that one unit is there for the beginning and then has to leave so another unit gets to the final outcome,” he said. “I am glad I was able to see the conception on paper all the way up to the building we see today.”

Although the new police station doesn’t necessarily increase the capability or the capacity of the Iraqi Police, Marr believes it does a lot for the morale of the policemen. He said it also shows the Wahida citizens that progress is being made and normalcy is being restored.

“This project gives the good people of Wahida confidence in their police,” Marr said. “The project was Iraqi driven, which means we are coming along the way we have always wanted. We want to help the Iraqi people help themselves. The best solutions are the Iraqi solutions.”

U.S. Troops Target Insurgent Havens Near Baghdad

Robert H. Reid, AP
U.S. troops have launched a summer offensive to target pockets of insurgents in central Iraq.

U.S. Troops Target Insurgent Havens Near Baghdad
by John Burnett

John Burnett was recently embedded with the Sledgehammer Heavy Brigade Combat Team, part of the 3rd Infantry Division out of Ft. Benning, Ga.

All Things Considered, July 16, 2007 · U.S. troops are in the midst of Operation Marne Torch, a summer offensive concentrated south of Baghdad aimed at stabilizing the capital.

Their strategy is to crack down on insurgent sanctuaries around Baghdad as a way to reduce bombings and other mayhem in the capital.

A lack of sustained U.S. troop presence has allowed insurgents and militias to find havens in the medium-sized cities and vegetable-growing villages in the Tigris delta. U.S. authorities suspect terrorists have been using these areas as bedroom communities, building bombs and then commuting to Baghdad to detonate them.

The region has become one of the newest battle fronts on the war map, and the Army has carved out a network of outposts close to insurgent strongholds. The idea is twofold: to aggressively engage the enemy and to live closer to the people whose trust is essential to winning the war.

The battle sector looks like classic guerrilla war. Americans have armor, artillery, air power and infantry. Insurgents counter with AK-47 fire, mortars, rockets, suicide car bombs and increasingly, lethal roadside bombs.

The White House and Pentagon frequently describe a monochromatic enemy in Iraq – al-Qaida. Critics call it an attempt to rally war-weary Americans against a known foe.

East of the Tigris, the picture is much more complex. Shiite militias are expelling Sunnis and bands of pro-Saddamist Sunnis are killing each other and Shiites — as al-Qaida militants fight to dominate everyone.

Changing Tactics

One of the lessons learned in the past four years is that sometimes-abusive behavior by U.S. troops — such as forced entry, wholesale detentions and pointing guns at everybody — embitters Iraqis and helps the insurgency's recruiting.

With this latest phase of the war, the military says its soldiers will no longer act like occupiers. Commanders say they can already see local Iraqis responding to America's gentler approach with an increased willingness to cooperate, volunteering information on bombs and arms caches.

"In the early stages, we would kick in doors and we would break things, and we would just say we're sorry and then pull off," says Lt. Col. John Kolasheski. "The majority of people understand we treat people with dignity and respect, but there are cases where we have to detain them. So it is a delicate balance."

But during the Sledgehammer Brigade's summer offensive, actions by combat troops have also deepened animosity among Iraqis.

In Nahrawan, soldiers shot the wrong man when he ran from a house thought to belong to militants. A gathering crowd glowered at the troops as they bandaged the victim's bloody arm and leg.

In two separate convoy incidents, U.S. Humvees rammed civilian vehicles, the first when an Iraqi sedan drove past a traffic blockade. In the second incident, a Humvee commander instructed his driver to clear a crowded intersection. The Humvee then smashed into a minibus full of terrified passengers — causing considerable damage —while his gunner fired an M-16 in the air to frighten other drivers.

When informed of the incident at the intersection, Col. Wayne Grigsby, commander of the 3,000-man Sledgehammer brigade, said bullying is not authorized and that he would investigate.

"That kind of stuff is what will get us in trouble," Grigsby says. "Over here, we're trying to liberate and support and assist. Some of these people on the fence...we make enemies, and they feed the insurgency."

Tours Not To Be Extended Beyond 15 Months

Blackanthem Military News, COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq – Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston visited Task Force Marne Soldiers in their various areas of operation in Iraq July 16 and cleared up rumors that can sometimes affect morale.

Soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Richardson, Alaska, and Georgia-based troops from Hunter Army Airfield, Forts Stewart and Benning, were all included in his one-day tour of the area.

Among the units Preston visited were 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team at Combat Outpost Cleary and the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Patrol Base Murray, both brigades are part of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Preston said he visits the small outposts like COP Cleary because it is important for him to have a feel for concerns that Soldiers and leaders might have. He said he doesn’t truly get a feel for what’s on their minds until he talks to Soldiers and leaders directly.

Preston’s speech began with a clarification of the deployment extension, increasing 12-month deployments to 15 months. He explained the deployment will not exceed 15 months, ending any rumors of an even longer extension.

Preston then opened the floor for questions and provided the opportunity for clarification of any rumors spreading throughout the unit. One Soldier brought up the pay issue on extended tours, and Preston explained each Soldier will be paid an extra $1,000 for every month past 12.

Preston also spoke on military school opportunities after the deployment. He also incorporated recruiting and retention into his motivating lecture.

He said he attributes the Army leadership to retention success. He attributes retention success to the experience and appreciation the Soldiers receive during the Global War on Terrorism.

“Soldiers are out there doing a real world mission,” Preston said. “You don’t really see the effects until you work on the ground. It’s the Soldiers here on the ground, interacting with the people, with the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police, and the National Police who will know if progress is being made. Soldiers believe in the mission they are doing and are being appreciated when they come home.”

Preston challenged every Soldier to spread the Army story when they return to the states. He is concerned that not everyone knows the truth and only believes the Army to be what they see on television.

On another subject, Preston spent addressed Transformation while visiting 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment at Patrol Base Murray.

Just as the infantrymen are building up Patrol Base Murray into a stronghold, Preston said the Army is currently adjusting itself to build itself up into a stronger fighting force.

Since 2004, starting with 3rd Infantry Division, the Army has been working to create more brigade combat teams.

In January 2004, Preston said, there were only 33 BCTs in the Army. Through shifting forces, retention and recruitment, the Army is currently fielding 40 BCTs of the desired 48.

Forty-two should be ready by the end of next year, he added.

Until the BCTs are ready though, Preston said Soldiers will continue to deploy for 15-months.

However, Preston said the deployment schedule will bring stability and predictability to the Army's operation tempo.

"(Secretary of the Army) Gates announced active duty units deployed to the CENTCOM (Central Command) area would not be deployed longer than 15 months and those units will have a minimum of 12 months dwell time back at home station," he said.

Although some situations, such as another attack somewhere in the world, could change this plan, Preston said there is no truth to the rumors that some units would be extended beyond 15 months to 18 months.

"The message I want to leave to you is the Secretary of Defense and our leadership have announced that Soldiers would not be deployed for longer than 15 months. And that is exactly what that means," he said.

In the meantime, to help ease the strain longer deployments might put on Soldiers, the Army is instituting programs to help Soldiers' morale, such as increasing the length of time Soldiers receive for environmental and morale leave.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

3-1 Cavalry Conducts Humanitarian Mission

Staff Sgt. Mark Plavan, a medic with Company C, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, offers a toy to a patient during a recent combined medical operation with the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment July 16.
Multi-National Corps – Iraq
Public Affairs Office, Camp Victory

Story by Staff Sgt. Sean Riley 3rd HBCT Public Affairs
Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller 1st Combat Camera

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq — Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, conducted a humanitarian mission to bring medical care and assistance to Iraqi citizens in need in the city of Hollandia on Monday.

Soldiers unloaded a truckload of medical supplies for the mission. The troopers, along with Iraqi Security Forces, patrolled along the city streets and set up five triage stations. The Soldiers also established dental, x-ray and pharmacy stations.

Army medics and civil affairs medical personnel, Iraqi pharmacy technicians and three Iraqi doctors, worked alongside Army doctors from the 3rd HBCT to screen and treat injuries and ailments of more than 180 Hollandia citizens.

“This is a good example of the local government and American Soldiers working together to provide medical aid to the populace,” said Maj. Dan Laseria, a civil affairs company commander, 36, Fort Bragg, NC. “We had local medical officials, Iraqi Army doctors and US medical personnel working alongside each other, learning from each other. This provided a learning and sharing environment for medical professionals, whether Iraqi or American.”

The 3-1 Cavalry is assigned to the 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.

BSTB Honors Fallen Hero

Blackanthem Military News, FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team's Brigade Special Troops Battalion honored one of their fallen Soldiers in a memorial service held July 15 at Forward Operating Base Hammer.

Sgt. Courtney T. Johnson was killed July 11 when a rocket exploded near him as he was warning his fellow Soldiers during a rocket attack at FOB Hammer.

Johnson, 25, of Raleigh, NC, was assigned to BSTB in September 2006, as part of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

During his current deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Johnson served as a generator mechanic for Headquarters Company, BSTB.

"(Johnson) was an exceptional person," said Pfc. Joseph Black, a mechanic in BSTB. "He was everyone's big brother. He will always be missed."

Monday, July 16, 2007

New R&R Policy In Effect

Servicemembers on 15-month deployments to support Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom will receive 18 days of Environmental and Morale Leave instead of 15 days, according to a July 13 memo signed by Dr. David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. This policy is not retroactive — Soldiers who departed Kuwait before July 13 will receive the original 15 EML days.

This is super news! I know many of the Soldiers are working so hard they haven't been able to take advantage of their four day pass so this is well deserved. These extra three days are GOLDEN! A great way to start the week with such great news!

FOB Hammer on Fox News

Another example of our Soldiers doing a GREAT job!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rockets Aimed at FOB Hammer Found, Neutralized

Rockets aimed at FOB Hammer found, neutralized
By Sgt. Natalie Rostek, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs
Jul 15, 2007 - 6:20:57 PM

Blackanthem Military News, FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – After several rockets hit FOB Hammer on July 11, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team maneuvered to find the source of the attack.

Early on July 12, the 3rd HBCT’s unmanned aerial vehicle, controlled by Sgt. Kenneth Hay, UAV mission commander, located 46 rocket launchers in the northern section of Besmaya Range Complex aimed at FOB Hammer. Thirty-four of the launchers were armed with Iranian 107mm rockets. The Besmaya Range Complex is adjacent to the coalition force base.

Soldiers of the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, currently attached to the 3rd HBCT, immediately responded to the site.

According to Capt. Justin Gerken, from Red Wing, Minn., commander of the 789th EOD team, 12 of the 46 rockets had already been used to attack FOB Hammer the day prior. EOD Soldiers were able to determine that the rockets originated from Iran after analyzing the unexploded ordnance.

The 789th EOD team was successful in neutralizing 33 of the 34 remaining rockets. In the disarming process, one rocket was launched and hit the base.

“Today was a success in that we disarmed 33 rockets,” Gerken said. “This allows for evidence collection to find out who is responsible for the indirect fire attacks on FOB Hammer.”

Fallen Soldier

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release


DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt. Courtney T. Johnson, 26, of Garner, N.C., died July 11 in Besmaya, Iraq, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire. He was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.

Peace be with the Johnson family. God Bless our Troops!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Week's Dog Face Daily's

Care Team Looks After 3rd HBCT Soldiers

Capt. Ewa Garner, the physician assistant for the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion which is part of the Sledgehammer Care Team on Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, follows up on the phone with a soldier who was wounded in action to be sure they are receiving proper care, July 13.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Senior leadership of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team continues to look after the welfare of their Soldiers through the Sledgehammer Care Team.

The care team was set up during Operation Iraqi Freedom III as a tool for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team commander to identify problems and provide support for Soldiers and their families.

The care team’s main focus is to support the families of fallen Soldiers and maintain weekly contact with Soldiers wounded in action. It also helps to provide both groups with any support they may need during and after the deployment.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., 3rd BCT commander, has made the care team one of his top priorities.

“Col. Grigsby has really taken the concept of the team and ran with it,” said Capt. Ewa Garner, the physician assistant for the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion. “He is very concerned about the Soldiers and constantly checks the care team book to see trends and what is going on with (Soldiers wounded in action) and the families of the (Soldiers killed in action).”

Chaplain (Maj.) Timothy Sowers, the brigade chaplain, is a part of the team and likes what it is doing to help the families of fallen Soldiers. His job is to ensure that the team tends to the needs of wounded Soldiers and their loved ones.

“I get very excited knowing that our command puts such great emphasis on taking care of Soldiers and their families,” Sowers said. “They have made such a sacrifice that it is a great honor to be able to help them through the grieving and recovering process. I sincerely hope that our effort encourages them.”

Garner and Capt. Joycelyn Constantino from Melbourne, Fla., the brigade nurse, help the team track wounded 3rd BCT Soldiers.

“We call and gather all the information as far as how (the Soldiers) are doing, where they are, and their plan for rehabilitation,” Constantino said. “The phone call really helps us determine where they are in their recovery and how we can assist in that process.”

Garner makes the weekly phone calls to gather information and make sure that 3rd BCT Soldiers know that they are still remembered by their comrades at FOB Hammer.

“I call every injured Soldier, regardless of where they are, once a week to make sure that their needs are being taken care of,” said Garner. “I want to know what is going on with them and let them know that even though they are back home, we are still thinking about them. Whatever issue they have, we make it a priority and relay it to the commander.”

Garner said she feels that despite some of the logistical hurdles involved with making the calls from Iraq, it is an important job.

“I’ve developed personal relationships with Soldiers and their families,” she said. “I talk with spouses and let them know we are thinking about them also. We want to know how they feel and what they are thinking. It will be very exciting to go back home and meet all these people face to face.”

Garner said she gets a great deal of personal satisfaction from her duties.

“I want all of our WIAs to know that we appreciate their sacrifice,” she said.

“Many of them have sacrificed so much and I feel like this is the least I can do for them.”

Another aspect of taking care of Soldiers involves seeing to their legal needs. Capt. Paul Lloyd, the brigade’s operation law attorney, has taken on that responsibility.

“We provide the commander with trends for what legal actions are happening with Soldiers,” he said. “This is more of a helpful measure than a punitive one. For instance, if one unit has a high number of Soldiers receiving Article 15s (Uniformed Code of Military Justice) for the same offense, we will examine it and see why it is happening.”

Capt. Angela Mobbs, the brigade physiologist, helps advise the commander on his Soldiers’ general well-being.

“The commander wants to know how his Soldiers are doing physiologically,” she said. “He checks on trends and is constantly checking to make sure that no problems are arising. He is very much on top of what is going on with his brigade and is always working to stop problems before they arise.”

Grigsby has used the information in the care team’s book to send letters to the families of every fallen 3rd HBCT Soldier from OIF III to the present deployment. He also used it to write all the brigade’s WIAs on Independence Day.

“I think it is great that the Soldiers here know that they are cared about from the beginning of their deployment all the way past the end of it,” Mobbs said.

Command Sgt. Maj. James M. Pearson, the enlisted advisor to Grigsby, is planning to visit all of 3rd BCT’s wounded Soldiers on the East Coast while he is home for his two weeks of mid-tour rest and recovery.

“I just want to thank them for their service,” he said. “It is important to me that I personally thank each and every one of them for their service to their country. I want to let them know that as long as there is oxygen in my lungs, I will help them anyway I can.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Greetings Assassin Family

It's sad that this is Capt. McGrue's last letter as commander. He will be moving to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment on July 14, 2007, 2:00 am EST... he will be signing off as Assassin 6.

Capt. McGrue is a great Officer and an inspiration to so many Soldiers. He a great role model and I know the Assassins will miss him greatly...I know Chris did when he left. Capt. McGrue cares about his Soldiers and teaches them to be the best they can possibly be... something that Chris carried with him when he left the Assassins...something he will carry with him the rest of his life!

July 12, 2007

Greetings, Assassin Family,

I sincerely hope this letter finds everyone doing well. As it leaves me it leaves the men and I doing well.

Well, before I go any further let me apologize for the tardiness in this letter. As the end of June approached, I was a little indecisive if I wanted to send a monthly letter and a final letter, or make them both into one. Then we lost internet connection and that answered my question. Either way, the realization of having to write this final letter has been tough for I would be lying if I said that I have not grown fond of the Assassins. This unit has performed superbly over the past 13 months despite the many obstacles that have laid in our path, and I stand here today more proudly than ever of the significant contributions our men have made to the Global War on Terrorism. An d I am not just saying all this because I am the commander. Our men have done well and all the successes this troop has had are solely credited to them and their hard work.

The past month. June was a month filled with mixed emotions for our men. The patrolling became less, but the security became more often. Now that we reside in our own little combat outpost (actually called Patrol Base Assassins), we are required to secure ourselves. That rotates amongst the platoons so everyone gets a fair share. Initially it may have been a challenge, but now I think our men are well settled in. The only problem with being settled in is that sometimes complacency creeps in, so it is incumbent upon our leaders to remind our young men that complacency can hurt us. Our emotions h ave also been battled by the standing up of the patrol base itself. We went through many challenges getting this base off the ground. From emplacing HESCOs baskets (barriers with dirt in them) around the base for force protection, to figuring out how we can keep receiving ice so that we can have something cool to drink when it is hot, to waiting out for generators so we could have power to run our air conditioners, and to an array of many other things. But together we have overcome every obstacle and battled on, and I believe that the experiences we encountered during the month of June have made the troop stronger.

Family Readiness Group (FRG). You ladies have done an awesome job back there and I am VERY proud of you. I hear nothing but great things about our FRG around the Brigade command and am always complimented on how well you ladies are performing back there. I just want to personally thank each and every one of you for a job well done. You took the FRG to a level I have never witnessed and I am thankful. I also want to personally commend all those that supported the Faust family during their struggle, as well as those that have looked after our young heroes who have returned home early.

Well, I am not going to ramble on as I often do and cut this short for now. I no longer feel as if I have to be the source of communication considering that we have countless number of Soldiers with either a cell phone or spending time up here on the computer or DSN phone. Furthermore, when Soldiers return to the FOB for their short time of refit they are able to use the computer and phones back on the FOB. So if you have not been hearing from your loved one, send him a piece of mail and tell him to call or write more often; the resources are available. And on July 14 approximately 1000 hours here in Iraq (July 14, 2007, 2:00 am EST), I will be signing off as Assassin 6 and Captain Troy Thomas will assume command.

Take care, God bless, and please remember to keep SGT Santos, SPC McQuiston, SPC Grenier, and PFC Pinna in your thoughts and prayers.

The websites tracking our stories while deployed:

http://www.wrbl.com/ (contains a link to Hammerslogger: http://hammerslogger.gulfeast.com/)
http://www.militarynews.com/ (contains a link to The Bayonet: http://www.thebayonet.com/)

--Respectfully, Captain Arthur L. McGrue III
Troop Commander
Alpha Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

3-1 Cavalry Pushes Into The Night

A Soldier from 1st platoon, Company B, 3rd Squadron, pulls security during a
night mission on July 3.
1st Lt. James Self, 24, Mobile, Ala., platoon leader for 1st platoon, Company B, 3rd Squadron, briefs his Soldiers before going out on a night mission on July 3.

RELEASE No. 20070710-2
July 10, 2007
3-1 Cavalry pushes into the night
Story and photos by Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd HBCT Public Affairs
Multi-National Division – Center PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq — Soldiers of Company B, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, listened intently as 1st Lt. James Self, of Mobile, Ala., the platoon leader of 1st platoon, gave his mission brief in the glow of humvee headlights.

Company B would be going to the small town of Hollandia to kill or capture
an individual believed to be involved with an improvised explosive device network operating in the area.

This was not their first night mission since arriving at FOB Hammer three months ago, but every face was a picture of concentration and focus. Within moments, the brief would be over and the Soldiers would go to their separate vehicles.

One by one Soldiers killed the lights on their humvees as they drove outside the wire. The Soldiers’ night vision goggles turned the landscape into a green world that can be seen clearly.

“They are doing well (on night missions),” said Self. “They continually get excited when they hear we have one coming up. I’d say we are more comfortable doing them, to be honest.”

Capt. David Smith, of Grand Rapids, Mich., commander of Company B, agreed with Self’s assessment.

“That’s how we train,” he explains. “At the NTC (National Training Center) and Hammer Focus we got our guys used to using the (night vision goggles) in the blackest of conditions. It’s like second nature to them now. They are all comfortable using them.”

As the convoy moved toward Hollandia, Smith gave his views on Hollandia. “I like this town,” he said. “The kids here are awesome. When we come out here during the day, they are all over the place.”

If it sounds like the relationship between Hollandia and 3-1 Cavalry is good, it is because of the work that Smith and his team have put into that relationship.

Smith explained, “When we first arrived there, the locals’ reaction to us was cold; neutral at best. Now they are very friendly. We’ve arrested a few bad guys out here. We’ve started a few projects in the area. The people here have faith that we are going to do what we say we will. They know we are going to capture the bad guys. They have no problem telling us when someone who isn’t supposed to be in the town is there.”

The convoy rolled into the town around 11:30 p.m. The men in the town came out and began talking with the Soldiers through interpreters. Soldiers began spreading out and looking for their target.

“A scout’s motto is that we own the night,” said Spc. Aaron Quitugah, from Irvine, Calif., a scout with Company B. “On a mission like this, we can scout around the town and see in places where people think they can hide. We have the advantage, definitely.”

After several hours of searching, the Soldiers were unable to find their target. Leaders of Company B don’t view that as a bad thing, however. “We try to be a friendly presence out here,” said Self. “We got good information tonight even though our target wasn’t there. It’s important that the people here see us and know we are out there at night looking out for them. They are comfortable with us. When we stop people at night now, they don’t seem nervous. They feel comfortable that we are out here. They talk to us. That gets us good information so we can do our job better.”

As silently as they came into the town, they move out. “We think there are caches out there,” said Smith. “That mission will help us later. We will continue to use our relationships we are making out there to find them. The local populations help is critical.”

Quitugah agrees with his commander’s assessment and remains ready to deal with the slow nights as well as the busy ones.

“This last mission went okay,” he said. “When we first got here, we thought trouble would push our way from Baghdad and it hasn’t happened yet. A lot of us feel like something big will happen and we are ready for it. We are staying on our toes because some big cells will be pushed out of Baghdad to the smaller places like this. They won’t be farmers or shoemakers; they will be the professionally trained fighters. We will be ready for them.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

1-15 Finds Weapons

Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment confi scate weapons July 6 from a cache near Wahida, Iraq. Below, Soldiers from Company A, 97th Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to 1-15th Infantry, prepare to enter a suspected insurgent safe house.

FOB HAMMER — Members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment and supporting elements conducted a patrol which uncovered a cache on July 6, near Wahida.

The unit searched two houses based on information from a local Iraqi that claimed the houses contained weapons caches. Inside the first house, Soldiers from Company C found eight rounds of ammunition, one Iraqi army uniform, two sets of body armor and two AK-47 rifl es. Soldiers also found paraphernalia associated with the Jaysh al-Mahdi, “mahdi Army.”

In the second house, Soldiers found one rocket propelled grenade,two charges, four anti-personnel rockets, two AK-47 rifl es, eight full magazines, six empty magazines and two grenades.

The 1-15 Inf. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning,Ga.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Everything Is Great!

We heard from Chris yesterday and everything was great! He was very tired due to the fact he had worked 19 hours, got 2 hours of sleep and worked a "short" 11 hour shift yesterday. He wasn't complaining because he says his job is very interesting and it makes time go by quickly.

He had returned to the FOB to pick up his belongings to move them to his new location but had got involved in some projects and is staying a little longer than he had expected. He said it was nice to enjoy the air conditioning and the DFAC. He enjoyed Prime rib, macaroni and cheese, green beans, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Baskin Robbins Pralines and Cream Ice Cream for dinner. He said it was great.

His new location is still very primitive but he is confident that it will improve with time just as FOB Hammer did. He was extremely upbeat and positive, as usual. We told him our air conditioner had gone out (this is the third summer in a row) but that we had a little different outlook on the conditions this year than we did the past two years. If Chris can endure the conditions he is living in right now, we can handle a couple of days without air conditioning. He has truly been an inspiration to us. He has such a wonderful attitude ALL THE TIME and never complains...it makes you take a long hard look at things and appreciate what you have. Chris has made us realize how important it is to make the most out of every situation...life is too short for anything less!

Mail is still a huge morale booster and with each corespondance, we get reassured of that fact. He loves getting mail!!! Anything and everything that he has received has been greatly appreciated! Thanks to everyone!

It is always so nice to hear that everything is great! I know he works very long hours, is exhausted, doesn't sleep much due to lack of time and the heat but he is truly doing something he loves and feels is making a difference for many people. Keep up the good work son, and keep smilin!

3-1 Cav. Soldiers Complete Operation Safe Teach

Multi-National Division – Center PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq — Task Force Marne Soldiers teamed with Iraqi Security Forces to provide security for Iraqi school children during Operation Safe Teach July 7 in Jisr Diyala.

Soldiers from Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, currently attached to 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, coordinated with the Iraqis to provide security for local students during national high school testing. The test is conducted annually to certify students’ technical proficiency and their suitability for advancement to the university level.

“The ability to safely test allows progress in the community,” said Capt. Tavares Tukes, from Savannah, Ga., a staff officer with 3-1 Cav. “Students were able to safely participate in the testing.”

Thirty-six students attended the testing. According to 3-1 Cav. leaders, their participation is evidence of the relationship growing between Coalition Forces and the local populace.

“Operation Safe Teach provided an opportunity for the students of Jisr Diyala to participate in end-of-year testing,” Tukes said. “It also afforded Coalition Forces the opportunity to demonstrate our willingness and interest to improve the Iraqi quality of life and education system.”

The 3-1 Cav is part of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Marne Focus 07/05

This Week's Dog Face Daily's

3-1 Cav. Soldiers Wounded in IED Strike

A Soldier from the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, stands in front of the hole left by an improvised explosive device strike July 5, near Tuwaitha.
A Soldier from the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, stands in the hole left by an improvised explosive device strike July 5, near Tuwaitha

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Five Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were injured in an improvised explosive device strike near Tuwaitha July 5.

Soldiers encountered a complex attack while conducting a combat patrol. Insurgents detonated the IED on an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and engaged the patrol with small arms fire and a rocket propelled grenade.

As reinforcement came to assist the casualties, they were hit with a secondary IED. No injuries resulted from the second explosion.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Choate Smith, of Houston, Texas, operations non-commissioned officer for the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment, extremists who place the IEDs will change their tactics when they are unable to kill coalition force soldiers.

Although Smith, who volunteered for the troop surge into Iraq, is concerned with insurgent tactics, he speaks highly of the Army training and equipment used to combat explosions like this.

“The battle drills and training also kept these Soldiers alive,” Smith said.

One Soldier was evacuated from the scene by Army helicopters and taken to the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. The Soldier is currently being treated at the Landstuhl Hospital in Germany and is in stable condition. The other four wounded Soldiers were evacuated to the 28th CSH for precautionary reasons.

Friday, July 6, 2007

3-1 Collects Weapons, Detainees

A Soldier from Co. D, 1-15th Inf. Regt., attached to 3-1 Cav., stands guard during a raid in Jisr, Diyala.

FOB HAMMER, Iraq — Soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment,and Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th InfantryRegiment, detained five suspected insurgents and found four weapons caches Thursday near Jisr, Diyala. The operation resulted in the largest cache seizure for the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team since beginning operations southeast of Baghdad.

Unit leaders said Soldiers conducted the five-phase operation to deny enemy sanctuaries and seize caches. Soldiers from 3-1 Cav. and Co. D, attached to the cavalry regiment, secured and searched four target locations simultaneously
during the operation.

Each cache found and destroyed decreases the munitions and improvised explosive device making materials available for insurgents to use against the populace and Coalition Forces, said Capt. Jimmy Hathaway, from Columbus,Ga., commander of Headquarters Troop, 3-1 Cav. “Ultimately, this mission was a step in the right direction towards making Iraq a more secure and safe region,”Hathaway said.

“The mission established the standard that Coalition Forces are not going to stand for anti-Coalition Force activity,”said 1st Lt. Donovan Duke, from New Cumberland, Pa., a platoon leader with CCo. D, 1-15th Inf. “We are here to establish a safe environment in cooperation with the Iraqi Security Forces for the Iraqi citizens.”

EOD Blow Up Insurgents\' Plans

Pfc. Nicholas Sullens, 20, of Fort Benning, Ga., 789th Explosive Ordnance, places C4 on ordinance at a disposal site on Rustamaya Range Complex July 2.

Pfc. Nicholas Sullens, 20, of Fort Benning, Ga., 789th Explosive Ordnance, places C4 on ordinance at a disposal site on Rustamaya Range Complex July 2.

Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Sgt. 1st Class Ed Allbaugh, 35, of Newark, Ohio, and a platoon sergeant for the 789th Explosive Ordnance Company, cradles the phone between his shoulder and cheek, grabs a pen and paper and goes to work.

“Ok, what was that grid coordinate?” he asks.

As he gets the details of an Improvised Explosive Device explosion in the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment’s area of operation, Sgt. 1st Class Choate Smith, 37, Houston, walks into the room and listens.

Both non-commissioned officers are all ready formulating a plan before the phone call is finished.

When Allbaugh hangs up, they quickly coordinate.

“This one mine?” asks Allbaugh.

“Yeah, take the two that got back last night and go,” says Smith.

As Allbaugh gears up and walks out the door, Smith smiles.

“Just another day,” he says with a shrug.

The 789th Explosive Ordnance has been at Forward Operating Base Hammer for two months, but they have already been involved in 95 incidents involving explosives. They have destroyed or neutralized improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance, enemy caches, remnants of war and munitions.

“We’ve averaged about one or two incidents a day,” says Smith. “I normally wake up, go to the brigade and check intelligence. After that, we are on the go trying to stop the bad guys.”

Capt. Justin Gerken, 33, from Red Wing, Minn., the commander of the 789th, is thankful for the Soldiers he has.

“These guys are, by far, the most intelligent people in the Army, in my opinion,” he said.

“They have to have a 110 GT score just to get in this MOS. After that, their training has a 60 percent attrition rate. We like to think we have the best minds in the Army. They never deal with the same situation twice. They are very adaptable and think on their feet well. These guys also have a high level of maturity and responsibility. We have staff sergeants rolling up on a site and they have on-scene command.”

The group’s experience is a big asset in handling the stressful scenarios they come across.

“Just between the senior leadership, we have over 60 years combined experience,” explained Allbaugh. “We’ve taught most of the guys under us at AIT. We are in a small field. We all know one another in some way. I might not know a person, but I probably know someone they work with. It helps that we are so small. Everyone does their job and looks out for one another. It definitely builds a bond within this unit.”

The challenge of the job is what draws Smith and Allbaugh to it.

“It is always something different,” explained Allbaugh. “Very rarely do we do the same thing twice in one day.”

Smith concurs with Allbaugh’s assessment.

“It can be a challenge trying to figure out how to defeat (insurgents),” says Smith. “It can be a mental chess game with the bomb-maker, sometimes. What we are trying to do is defeat him by keeping him from killing 3rd (Infantry Division) Soldiers, disrupting his activities and ultimately, catching him. That’s the key, we have to catch the bomb-makers or they will just keep on doing what they are doing.”

Allbaugh understands that the bomb-makers that he is trying to combat are not uneducated hooligans.

“A lot of bomb-makers are college educated engineers,” he explained. “They know what they are doing and adjust quickly. We have to constantly switch up what we do out here. In this area, they are getting more sophisticated. The better we get at our jobs, the better they have to get to have a chance to defeat us.”

When asked if the bomb-makers ever target him and his Soldiers, Allbaugh responded quickly.

“Yes, without a doubt they do,” he said. “They put out secondaries to try and kill our first responders, people like us and the medics. You have to remember, they will watch us a few times to see how we respond and then try to use that to hurt us.”

Despite the danger, Allbaugh is excited about the job he and his Soldiers are doing.

“We blew a cache two weeks ago that had 60 ordnance items,” he explained. “We got the bomb-maker and confiscated some devices. That was a good day.”

As various Soldiers run in and out of the EOD office getting ready to go out, Gerken takes a moment to reflect about what makes his group special.

“It is really an honor to command a group of Soldiers like this,” he said. “These Soldiers volunteered to go out to live IED sites and help prevent them from hurting people. It sounds cool that they get to play with explosives, but really they are about saving people’s lives.”

Smith, who has been neutralizing explosives for the last 11 years, understands how important his job is.

“If we make a mistake, we can damage property, equipment, the local infrastructure and, most importantly lives.”

Smith also offers any advice to Soldiers who happen to be at an IED site when he is working.

“If you see me running, you better catch up,” he says with a smile.

New Locations

Many of the Soldiers from FOB Hammer are moving or have already moved to various Combat Outposts. This gives us a little insight to the COPs and the new locations of our troops.
Spc. Jeff Nutter, 27, Redding, Calif., Pvt. Dillon Bella, 19, Fredrick, Md., and Sgt. Anthony Shuta, 27, Daytona Beach, Fla., all from Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, relax in their living quarters May 2, at Combat Outpost Cashe, Iraq.

Blackanthem Military News, COMBAT OUTPOST CLEARY, Iraq — Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team have established three combat outposts in the unit’s area of operation, all named after their fallen comrades. While in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, V, 1-15 Inf. moved from Forward Operating Base Hammer, where the brigade headquarters is located, to Combat Outposts Cleary, Cahill, and Cashe in the areas of Wahida, Salman Pak, and Tuwaitha, respectively.

According to Maj. John Cushing, of Rochester, Mich., Operations Officer for 1-15 Inf., the battalion was assigned to the outposts to be closer to the communities and people they are here to secure. He said moving closer to the towns where they will be conducting their operations also allows for the battalion to better intermingle with the locals. “To live with the populace and experience what they experience, you get a better appreciation for the area,” Cushing said.

COP Cleary is named after 1st Lt. Michael J. Cleary, 2nd Platoon Leader for Company E, 1-15 Inf., who was killed during an IED strike Dec. 5, 2005 during OIF III in Ad Duliayah, Iraq.

According to Capt. Mathew Garner, of Dallas, Texas., commander for Company C, the unit had moved from a pharmaceutical plant to COP Cleary almost immediately. When they arrived at the former government building and greenhouses, there was nothing but one run-down building. Rubble and broken glass covered the ground, rendering it nearly impossible to maneuver vehicles. “It only took one day, really, for the inside of the building to be cleared,” Garner said, “and about a week or two to get all the glass cleared away.” After hard work and dedication from the Soldiers at COP Cleary, the outpost now has toilets, a shower facility, and the Dragon Inn dining facility area. “It’s gotten so much better here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Quentin Fenderson, of Tuscaloosa, Ala. “Especially with the new chow hall and showers. Most of the Soldiers would rather just stay here than go back to (FOB Hammer) for showers and chow.”

Company D occupies COP Cashe, which is named after Sgt. 1st Class Alwynn Cashe. Cashe was a platoon sergeant in Company A during OIF III. He died on Nov. 8, 2005 from injuries suffered during an IED strike on Oct. 17, 2005 in Ad Duliyah, Iraq.

The outpost is located in the town of Tuwaitha, just north of Salman Pak. Directly next to the building is a fire station where the Soldiers get most of their water. “The firefighters help us out,” said Staff Sgt. Quentin Heard, 33, Lagrange, Ga., tank commander for 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1-15 Inf. “They bring bread; they help us get our water running. We help them too. Like, if one has a headache or something, we will get with our medic to try to help them.” COP Cashe currently has two man-made toilets, a new chow kitchen, and a shower made from ponchos, old lockers, and a fire hose. The living quarters are rooms within the building capable of housing eight to 16 Soldiers.

COP Cahill, named after Capt. Joel Cahill, Commander of Company B, 1-15 Inf. during OIF III, who was killed Nov. 6, 2005 in an IED attack in Ad Dwar, Iraq, is the smallest of the three outposts and is believed to be the former Hunting Club security building for Saddam Hussein’s sons, owned by the Ministry of Agriculture.

“It’s getting better everyday,” said Spc. Anthony Hartley, 22, Delaware, Ohio, Company A, 1-15 Inf. “We have the phones and internet, all we need is a place to wash clothes and I’ll be set.” The COP has one makeshift shower, dining facility, and phone and internet access. According to 1st Lt. Chris Pearson, Executive Officer for Company A, improvements to be made to the outpost includes additional living space and air conditioning.

Although it is not clear how long 1-15 Inf. will be living at their designated outposts, the Soldiers are making tremendous progress with the resources they are given and are prepared for what could be an 18-month deployment. “It’s my job,” Hartley said. “If I wasn’t prepared to do whatever I needed to, I wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line.”