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Iraq mission is not over yet
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TIKRIT, Iraq — Television sets throughout the country are depicting images of American soldiers celebrating the end of combat operations in Iraq. The last combat unit, represented by a convoy of Stryker vehicles, crossed the border into Kuwait as soldiers leave Iraq en route to their awaiting families and friends back home. Now, imagine this television playing in an office, much like any in the United States, cubicles with computers at every desk, and people hard at work. Imagine those people wearing uniforms, with digital camouflage print, and outside the walls of their office building is nothing but sand, heat, and a flag pole waving Old Glory, watching the same images.
As the world focuses on reports of soldiers leaving, myself and 49,999 other U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are still in Iraq. Even though Operation Iraqi Freedom is coming to a close, deployments continue under the new moniker of Operation New Dawn, as of today.
The current environment in Iraq, while exponentially more secure than in previous years, is far from a walk down the streets of Savannah. U.S. soldiers are still required to “kit up” in over 30 pounds of armor, including a Kevlar vest and helmet, ammunition and rifle, every time they leave the protective confines of their military bases. The primary difference is now soldiers are conducting patrols hand-in-hand with Iraqi military and police forces, helping increase their capabilities.
Units previously called brigade combat teams are now re-designated as advise and assist brigades, with slight changes to their organizational make-up, including the addition of specially trained soldiers to act as advisers, and a primary mission of mentoring. U.S. soldiers are in their final stage of operations, one in which they will focus on advising, training, assisting and equipping Iraqi security forces, ensuring they can protect their citizens from both internal and external threats to their sovereignty.
The Iraqis have come a long way since the disbandment of the former Saddam regime military after the 2003 invasion. They have 15 army divisions, in addition to naval and air forces, as well as both federal and local law enforcement elements. Iraqi military units are capable of conducting counter-terrorism operations largely on their own from planning to after action exploitation. In addition, their police elements are obtaining primacy for security in the cities, which have been secured by the Iraqi Army since U.S. forces withdrew to their bases last year. Accomplishments like these are huge feats for forces that were struggling a few years ago, and are what has enabled the successful U.S. drawdown.
Unfortunately, despite the progress, there are still threats to the security of Iraq, as represented by the number of attacks on Aug. 25 and the tragic loss of two Third Infantry Division soldiers in recent weeks. The heavily degraded insurgents, still somewhat capable and full of desire, continue their attempts to shake the increasing stability of the country.  
U.S. troop strength has been significantly reduced from the high of more than 160,000 during the height of “the surge” in 2007, but the mission is not yet over. While I sit behind my desk with access to news updates from the states, there are still a large number of soldiers regularly engaging the enemy, and they will continue to do so until our complete military withdrawal scheduled for December 2011. While combat operations are officially over, a large number of us are still in the fight, albeit in a different way. We will continue to be here, advising and assisting in support of Operation New Dawn, until the last soldier returns home.

Fargon is a Task Force Marne soldier deployed from Fort Stewart assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters. She is on her second deployment to Iraq and is expected to redeploy in the fall.
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