Iraq — Commander Describes Road March Out of Iraq

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2010 — The rede­ploy­ment of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Stryk­er Brigade Com­bat Team from Iraq demon­strat­ed the changes that have hap­pened in the coun­try, the brigade’s com­man­der said today.

In a tele­phone inter­view from Kuwait, Army Col. John Nor­ris spoke about the unit’s road march from Bagh­dad to Kuwait.

The exten­sive media cov­er­age of the unit’s depar­ture from Iraq was a tremen­dous hon­or for his sol­diers, Nor­ris said, but some of the focus on the brigade being the last full com­bat brigade out of Iraq ignores the real sit­u­a­tion.

“There’s still a sig­nif­i­cant amount of work to be done, and these guys with the ‘advise and assist’ brigades remain­ing here have enor­mous capa­bil­i­ty and enor­mous capac­i­ty and will be able to work with Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces,” the colonel said.

The spin from the media was that this was the end of the mis­sion, Nor­ris said.

“We do not want to shad­ow the capa­bil­i­ty that remains in Iraq: 50,000 sol­diers in advise-and-assist units is a large sig­na­ture that will allow Iraqi forces to improve,” he said.

The Stryk­er brigade was based in west­ern Bagh­dad and worked dai­ly with Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces in that key area. At one time, the area was a divid­ing point between Sun­ni and Shi­ia Mus­lims, and lit­er­al­ly was a tin­der­box. But the unit -– based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. — found an increas­ing­ly per­mis­sive envi­ron­ment as its deploy­ment went along.

Dur­ing that time, the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces made tremen­dous progress, Nor­ris said.

“Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces pro­vid­ed all the pro­tec­tion for the unit from Taji to Kuwait,” he said. “There was no con­tact with ene­my, and that’s entire­ly because the Iraqis did such a good job.”

The unit marched out of Iraq to give the U.S. com­man­der in Iraq, Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, more options, Nor­ris said. “As a part of the respon­si­ble draw­down of forces, our brigade would have start­ed rede­ploy­ing in July in a phased approach,” Nor­ris explained.

But the Iraqi par­lia­ment -– elect­ed in March -– still had not formed a gov­ern­ment. The brigade staff looked at the sit­u­a­tion and made a rec­om­men­da­tion that the brigade stick around and march out, Nor­ris said, enabling the brigade to stay some­what longer to pro­vide a strate­gic force for the com­mand.

“Unbe­knownst to us, it also pro­vid­ed a relief valve for the rear­ward move­ment of the­ater prop­er­ty,” Nor­ris said. “The option of us dri­ving south relieved the pres­sure on some of the the­ater mobil­i­ty assets.”

Once the deci­sion was made, the tac­ti­cal road march was planned. The brigade was spread out all over west­ern Bagh­dad, and the mis­sion was to get 2,200 sol­diers in 350 vehi­cles out of the area.

The brigade moved out over two days, with each bat­tal­ion form­ing one of four seri­als. “That was the gen­er­al basic con­cept up front,” Nor­ris said. They made the deci­sion to move at night, since tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the day rise to 120 degrees or more. It also served to keep the Amer­i­can pres­ence off the roads when most Iraqis use them.”

The 350-mile road march would be a tempt­ing tar­get for al-Qai­da in Iraq or oth­er ter­ror groups. Plan­ning includ­ed the Amer­i­can com­mands in Iraq and Kuwait. It also includ­ed Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces.

“We moved from Bagh­dad and did a rest overnight at Camp Adder [in Talil, Iraq] and then moved south to Kuwait,” Nor­ris said. “It was a good plan, and it went flaw­less­ly. I could­n’t be more proud. There was no ene­my con­tact and very few main­te­nance issues – flat tires and all recov­ered by us.

“We were able to move all four of our seri­als into Kuwait as orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled, with the last cross­ing into Kuwait on the morn­ing of the 19th,” he con­tin­ued.

Nor­ris called it “a pret­ty awe­some expe­ri­ence” for him as a com­man­der to real­ize the unit com­plet­ed its year-long mis­sion with all the sol­diers safe­ly into Kuwait.

The unit will case its col­ors tomor­row morn­ing and begin the flight back to Joint Base Lewis-McChord ear­ly next week.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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