Five years ago, the first unit to cross the Kuwait-Iraq border was the 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary Regiment. The days following were the most rapid advance in the 3rd Infantry Division history, outpacing even the World War II invasions of Sicily when the Division advanced 100 miles in 12 days, and southern France when the Division advanced 400 miles in a month. By March 31, 2003, the 3rd Infantry Division was within 50 miles of Baghdad.
The first 10 days of April 2003 were the most crucial days of this initial campaign, and the Division became famous for its brave "Thunder Runs." Our First Brigade Combat Team seized the Saddam International Airport from the Republican Guard after 12 hours of heavy fighting. Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith of the 11th Engineer Battalion was killed while manning a .50 caliber machine gun, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. By April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell, and the 3rd Infantry Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation - the first awarded since World War II.
The 3rd Infantry Division returned to Iraq in 2005. But rather than overthrow Saddam Hussein and his regime, the Division oversaw the transition from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s interim government to a freely and fairly elected representative Iraqi government. During this deployment, "Dog Face Soldiers" protected the new Iraqi Transitional National Assembly which wrote the first popularly-ratified constitution for Iraq and oversaw the transition of Iraq to a government democratically-elected by the Iraqi people of all ethnic and religious persuasions in a free and fair election.
When the President announced the Surge in January 2007, the 3rd Infantry Division answered the call again. The Division Headquarters deployed six months ahead of schedule, and the Second and Third Brigade Combat Teams accelerated their deployment timelines. The Division stood up Multi-National Division - Center to focus on Baghdad’s southern belts and the southern provinces. Attacks in this area decreased from over 25 per day in March 2007 to under two attacks per day in March 2008, and civilian casualties are down 75 percent.
Now, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers no longer "commute to work." They live in forward patrol bases with the Iraqi people. They not only secure them, but work hand in hand to provide essential services and a stable way of life. They are focused on all lines of operation equally. For the first time in the Division’s history, Operation Marne Piledriver will kick off next month to solely focus on the capacity building of the Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi government, and Iraq’s economic stability.
The advantage of the Division’s multiple deployments to Iraq is that progress is evident. Unlike the Iraqis of 2003 who lived in fear, the will the Iraqis of 2008 has turned against the insurgency and toward freedom. Iraqi Security Forces share the cost of defending their country, currently suffering casualties at a rate three times that of Coalition Forces - Iraqis are truly fighting for their country.
Our Soldiers are working at the local level - building schools, health clinics and governance centers. Sectarian divides have gone away, and Sunnis and Shiites are working together to seek legitimacy at the most grass roots level. The Division’s current campaign plan focuses completely on capacity building. A year ago I spent my time on large combat outposts planning major kinetic operations - operations requiring lethal force as the main effort - now I walk through the local markets, visit fish farms, and spend my time eating with and engaging the Iraqi people.
I always tell the Soldiers they have a choice in life - they can either read history or make history, and Dog Face Soldiers are making history every day. They have set the standard for operating in a counterinsurgency environment. When the Division returned in 2007, it unfurled its colors on Iraqi soil for an unprecedented third time in four years. The Marne Division led the initial attack into Baghdad, and is now leading stability efforts for the Iraqi people. At the heart of the Division’s history is its Soldiers - they are doing amazing work every day.
Rock of the Marne!
Major General Rick Lynch is the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, now deployed in Iraq. Captain Allie Weiskopf Chase contributed to this column.