Sunday, April 27, 2008

Leaders of One of the Army’s Most Deployed Brigades Look Back on Deployment

Capt. Josh Beard, from Opelika, Ala., the civil-military operations officer for 1-10th FA, greets a worker who helped set up a well and filtration system at a girls school in Narhwan. The 3rd BCT established relationships with citizens of the Mada'in Qada through community projects and humanitarian aid projects like the girls school.
Staff Sgt. John Zamarripa, from Columbus, Ga., 3rd platoon, Company A, 1-15th Inf. Regt., jokes with citizens in Salman Pak during a market assessment mission. The 3rd BCT worked with local business owners to improve the economy of the Mada'in Qada.

Lt. Col. Mark Sullivan, from Huntsville, Ala., commander of 1-10th FA, talks about security with Abu Sa'ad, chairman of the Sabah Nissan council, before a providing water to Banzen Khana, a village southeast of Baghdad. Battalions in the 3rd BCT worked closely with qada and nahia leaders to help improve the communities in the Mada'in Qada.
By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – After months of intensive training at Fort Benning, Ga., and a rotation to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calf., the 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Forward Operating Base Hammer in March 2007, prepared to accomplish their mission.

Their mission in Iraq has been to prevent accelerants from coming into Baghdad, said Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT.

“I’d say we were very successful doing that, in addition we came to the Mada’in Qada and helped stop the criminals that were harming the good people here,” he said.

The 3rd BCT, also known as the Hammer Brigade, captured 43 division level and brigade level HVIs (High-Value Individuals) and killed over 160 enemy fighters.

“We have been very effective along all lines of operations,” Grigsby said.

Command Sgt. Major James Pearson, from Philadelphia, the 3rd BCT’s senior non-commissioned officer, is also pleased with the way his troops conducted operations.

“We have been phenomenal for over a year,” he said. “I can look at what is happening in Baghdad and see an improvement. Since our arrival, attack levels have dropped to a very low point. I believe that is proof that we have been accomplishing our mission.”

The 3rd BCT inherited a battle space that had very little coalition force presence prior to 2004. Citizens of the Mada’in Qada were routinely intimidated by extremist groups and the local economy was a shell of its former self. Shops and markets were boarded up and vacant. The local government had been forced underground and the judges who provided rule of law had fled to Baghdad. Seeing the situation, Grigsby and Pearson were optimistic, but cautious in their expectations.

“The deployment went like I expected it to,” Pearson said. “I viewed us as an extension of [Operation Iraqi Freedom] I... We had to fight in the beginning and establish ourselves in the area. We were very much in an expeditionary fight in the beginning. After we established order, we were able to build up all of the other areas.”

Pearson credits the Brigade’s training as a key reason that his Soldiers were so successful.

“I have always emphasized the basics when it comes to training,” he said. “Our NCOs worked hard on teaching our Soldiers core warrior tasks that they would need … Our Soldiers knew how to fight and survive before they came out here. Once we had our fighting skills down, everything else fell into place. We were prepared to fight. All we needed to do was adjust our TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) based on what we were experiencing.”

Grigsby said even though the initial fighting was difficult and progress was slow, the brigade’s persistence and discipline remained constant.

“I cannot explain how proud I am of our Soldiers,” he said. “No matter what happened, they showed up every day ready to accomplish the mission. I didn’t hear any complaints or whining a single time this deployment. Much of that goes to our leaders who provided direction and kept our Soldiers focused on what they were doing, but you have to give most of the credit to our Soldiers and their commitment to serving their country.”

Grigsby has seen tangible results as a result of his troops’ performance.

“Security has increased ten-fold from when we first started going outside the wire here at Hammer,” he said. “We were getting attacked an average of three or four times a day when we first arrived. Now we average less than one attack per day.”

After capturing the HVIs, the 3rd BCT eliminated those who menaced good citizens. In finding and eliminating weapon caches and improvised explosive devices, they eliminated another major threat. They detained 600 suspected criminals and helped rebuild the government in the area.

“The mayor and the qada council have returned and are helping the people of the Mada’in Qada. Each nahia has a local council helping get the voices of their people heard,” Grigsby said. “All of these things weren’t here when we arrived. I think it’s a testament to the hard work of our Soldiers, the local leaders, our Iraqi Security Force partners and the people in this area.”

Pearson credits much of the 3rd BCT’s success to veterans of the brigade. He estimated over 60 percent of the brigade's Soldiers were serving in their second or third deployment.

“More than anything, our veterans helped instill a sense of confidence in our first timers,” he said. “As operations started, our younger guys had someone who had seen combat and could ready them for what was about to happen. They were able to show our Soldiers what right looked like and prepare them.”

Grigsby also feels that his veterans’ professionalism was as important as their experience.

“Our veterans were smart and professional enough not to fight the same fight twice,” he said. “They realized that this was a different war from OIF I and III. They were open-minded and adapted what they knew to help in the current fight.”

Pearson believes that his first-time deployers were also instrumental to the brigade’s success.

“When our first-timers rolled out of the gate, they brought a heightened sense of awareness to our patrols,” he said. “To watch them conquer their initial fears and go out and contribute was a lift for all of our leaders. They allowed us to see the battlefield with new eyes, which is always good.”

As the 3rd BCT’s deployment continued, the Brigade worked to help establish Sons of Iraq groups throughout the qada to further security gains made in the area. The SoI groups manned checkpoints and provided the 3rd BCT and ISF vital information on what happened inside neighborhoods.

“The establishment of the Sons of Iraq put more pressure on extremists operating in the area,” said Grigsby.

Their establishment provided jobs to citizens who might have otherwise emplaced IEDs for money. They provided hiring by the Iraqi national police and Iraqi police.

“It gave the men of this qada the opportunity to help better the places they lived and worked by providing security,” Grigsby said. “As a result, local economies prospered ... I think it was one our greatest successes of this deployment.”

The initiation of the SoI, the gains in security, the re-establishment of governance and the strengthening of the local economy are some of the many victories that the 3rd BCT achieved in helping the Mada’in Qada during the deployment. They are all victories that have come with a cost, according to Grigsby.

“We lost 32 great Soldiers to accomplish the great things we have done,” he said. “We had 192 wounded to accomplish our mission. They will live with me forever and I will never forget what they have done for this brigade and our country.

“I feel it is important that none of them is forgotten by this brigade or the people back home. That, to me, is the most important thing. As their commander, I take full responsibility for all of their deaths. I look forward to meeting their parents and spouses and grieving with them,” Grigsby said. “These Soldiers were all heroes and I feel it is important that we never let the greatness of what they did for their country be forgotten.”

Pearson also credits two battalions who were separated from the 3rd BCT at the beginning of the deployment. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, were both assigned to different units away from the 3rd BCT area of operations. The 1-10 FA was eventually reunited with the 3rd BCT at FOB Hammer, but Pearson is proud of how they conducted operations in other areas of Iraq.

“It is always emotional when you lose units,” he said. “When you train as a team, you want to deploy and fight as a team. When we found out we were losing both 1-10 and 2-69 it was a blow, because we knew what both of them brought to the fight. I knew that both of them would do well apart from us, though. I have heard nothing, but good things about their performances while detached from the brigade.”

As the 3rd BCT’s deployment draws to an end, both leaders want their troops to return home proud of what they have done.

“Since 2001, Soldiers have volunteered to be a part of the global war on terror and to leave their homes and families to serve their country,” Pearson said. “I want all of them to be proud of their accomplishments. I want them to be proud of their service. History calls the World War II Soldiers the greatest generation. I believe that when we look back 20 years from now, these Soldiers will be looked at as one of the greatest generations as well. What we are doing with an all volunteer Army is amazing. Every one of our Soldiers stood up, raised their right hand and answered the call of their country during a time when they were needed. I think it says something about them and the type of people that make up our service.”

Grigsby agrees.

“I wake up everyday just honored to be able to serve with the great Soldiers of the Sledgehammer Brigade,” he said. “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. The Soldiers of this brigade have helped create a world that will allow my recently born grandson to grow up safely and enjoy all of the freedoms that we have enjoyed. I mean it when I say they have fought to preserve our country and our way of life. When my grandson asks me about this war, I will tell him I served in a brigade of heroes, because that is what everyone in this brigade is.”

The 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

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