Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Jeffrey Ashmen was part of the 3rd ID’s 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team when it crossed into Iraq 10 years ago this week.
He recently discussed the runup to the March 20, 2003, invasion that led to the overthrow of Baghdad.
“We were on block leave during the Christmas holidays when we got the call that we were heading for Iraq,” Ashmen said, explaining the Marne Division was already sending brigades on six-month rotations to Kuwait. “We were not due to go until April when we’d relieve the 2nd Brigade who got there in September. I was part of the advanced party that went over in January. We had a prepositioned fleet of (howitzers), (Abrams tanks), (Bradley figting vehicles) and other weapons and equipment.”
He said his initial job was to help prepare other units as they arrived in Kuwait. His battalion’s mission was to get (155mm howitzer) artillery batteries in place along the border. Prior to crossing the border, he said the artillery had already “softened up” enemy positions, removing observation posts and forward bases.
“They created lanes for tracked vehicles and wheeled vehicles,” Ashmen said. “I was with a group of wheeled vehicles carrying the ammunition for our guns. When fire missions were called into our (fire direction control) by forward observers and cavalry scouts, we did a lot of softening too.”
He said at first the tracked vehicles of the Raider Brigade’s 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment got well out in front of his artillery support group. At one point, he said he realized they were deep in the Iraqi desert with no security support. His battery was originally re-enforcing the 3rd HBCT with fire support then the 3/69th commander decided to bring the entire artillery battalion online to provide even stronger fire support for his battalion.
“They saw what our shelling did to enemy positions, so they were glad to have us,” he smiled, “I think those armor guys fell in love with us.”
Ashmen said he and his soldiers pretty much lived in their vehicles from March 20 until April 9 when Pres. George W. Bush declared an end to major combat. He recalled standing near his Humvee at Baghdad International Airport, talking to a group of noncommissioned officers. As they listened to an FM radio, he said he couldn’t help but laugh when he heard Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s Foreign Minister, telling the news media that U.S. forces had not entered Baghdad.
After capturing and securing several palaces, including Hussein’s son Uday Hussein’s place, he said his batteries settled into some old Iraqi army camps. They later moved to the Green Zone where they “rested” until they convoyed back across Iraq to Kuwait, starting on the Army’s birthday, June 14, 2003.
In all, Ashmen said he deployed to Iraq for OIF-1 (2003), OIF-3 (2005) and OIF-5 (2007). He said his nearly 32-year career began in 1980 as a field artillery FDC specialist. His first duty assignment was Fort Stewart. At that time, he said the military was on high alert due to Iran Hostage Crisis.
It is not his own career that Ashmen reflects on most. Although he is proud of his service in Army, including 36 months of combat duty, Ashmen said he is most proud of the young men and women with whom he served.
“It is absolutely amazing what the American soldier can do,” he said. “My soldiers transitioned from combat patrols to working as a police force to training police forces — without even shifting gears. My soldiers trained over 9,000 Iraqi police. We all need to be proud of our sons and daughters. They did a... fine job!”
Ashmen retired last year. He’s now an agent with Caldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors. He’s an active member of the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s Sergeants Major Association and the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee.