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3rd ID brass seeing peace break out
Lt. Col. Johnney Matthews - photo by U.S. Army photo
On Sept. 1 Operation Iraqi Freedom will become Operation New Dawn, and the U.S. Army’s advise  and assist mission will transition to one of stability and support.
Commanders from the 1st and 2nd Brigades deployed out of Fort Stewart offered an update Monday on their troops’ accomplishments in Iraq as a new government is formed there. Iraq held country-wide elections on March 7.
Although U.S. forces in Iraq are slated to draw down to 50,000 troops by Aug. 31, the brigades deployed there from Fort Stewart will not return home until their 12-month deployment cycles are up.
Lt. Col. Johnney Matthews of the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and Col. Charles Sexton of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, seemed pleased with the relative calm surrounding Iraq’s historic election earlier this month and said their soldiers have a hand in making Iraq a safer place.
In addition, Matthews said his “unsung heroes” of the 3rd BSB provide the Army with basic and necessary essentials so they can continue to operate.
Matthews and his battalion are stationed near Baghdad and Sexton’s brigade is in the vicinity of Mosul.
“It was a pretty good process. We were the safest place in Iraq on election day,” Sexton said.
The colonel said Mosul was once one of the more violent cities in Iraq, but “since our Marne soldiers have been in Mosul there has been a steady decline of enemy activity.”
Sexton said the 2nd Brigade will continue to assist Iraqi security forces by filling in particular “shortfall” areas when requested by the Iraqis, such as providing intelligence or bomb sniffing dogs and explosive ordinance personnel.
“We’re on what is called the KRG,” he said. “We’re 75 miles from Turkey, 75 to 100 miles from Iran and 100 miles from Syria. The brigade is responsible for an area about the size of Massachusetts and Vermont.”
He said his brigade’s area of responsibility contains a population of 3.2 million to 4 million Iraqis.
“It’s a less active combat role in Iraq (today),” Sexton said. “But we’re still doing some combat operations.”
Matthews agreed Iraq is not as violent now as it was five years ago when he was first deployed to Iraq.
“We do more to prepare now and we are better equipped than we were in 2005,” he said.
Matthews said the biggest difference he sees is “on the road.”
“We see the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “They’re at check points, they’re clearing areas. They’re ensuring that we’re safe. We’re not getting hit as much — knock on wood.”
Matthews said his battalion has not had enemy contact in the past 90 days.
“And we’re on the road all the time,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s not still out there. But we prepare every single night. We remain vigilant.”
Sexton said he too sees a “siege mentality” disappearing among the Iraqis as the country’s security situation improves. He said the dividing lines between Sunnis, Shias and other ethnic and religious groups in Iraq are beginning to blur.
“People are more willing to reach out to other groups,” he said.
However, Sexton, like Matthews, said U.S. forces can’t let their guard down despite the country’s positive progress.
The colonel said Iraq’s transition of power to a new government presents an opportunity to “the terrorists and the insurgents to inject themselves into the process.”
Sexton said there are American troops on the Iraq-Syrian border to prevent extremist groups from infiltrating into the country, as well as Army soldiers patrolling the Tigris River Valley “where cells of terrorists hide.”
“There are other forces securing critical roadways to allow freedom of movement,” he said.
Sexton said the ultimate goal is for the Iraqis to be able to “protect themselves from internal and external threats.”
The colonel also praised Matthews’ battalion for its support and sustainment role, without which the Army could not function.
Matthews said the 3rd BSB’s job is to support and sustain the troops before, during and after the drawdown. Matthews said the area the 1st Brigade will support and sustain after the drawdown is roughly “the size of Rhode Island.”
1st Brigade Public Affairs Officer Maj. Vince Porter explained how the brigade’s transition will work.
“We are currently partnered with two Iraqi army divisions and one federal police division,” Porter said. “Since late January, we’ve been responsible for partnering with those units in areas of northern Baghdad as well as to the immediate south of the capitol city. There are two other U.S. Army brigades that share a part of Baghdad, but when they redeploy, they will not be replaced by another brigade. Instead, our brigade will assume responsibility for those areas. We will also pick up the partnership responsibilities with the Iraqi units in those areas as well. That being said, once those other units leave, we will be responsible for all of Baghdad Province and it’s 7.1 million people.”
Matthews said his battalion has the monumental task of providing food, water, fuel, vehicles, medical supplies, equipment and mail to 1st Brigade troops.
“There’s no glory (in this job), it’s not sexy and no one will make a movie about it — but it’s done every single day. These soldiers bust their butts every single day to support this brigade,” Matthews said. “That’s a whole lot of work.”
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