Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 26, 2007 - For some, a wake-up call came in the form of a B-1B bomber dropping its load on a suspected insurgent safe haven in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 16. Components from the Iraqi army and the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans" kicked off Operation Marne Courageous when 4,000 pounds of explosives were dropped on an island in the middle of the Euphrates River at 3:50 a.m.
The objective was to deny insurgents the opportunity to use the island as an asylum, said Air Force Capt. Craig Barham, 15th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, supporting the Rakkasans.
Marne Courageous is aimed at securing the populations of Owesat and Betra, former insurgent sanctuary areas, by establishing a permanent presence on the west side of the Euphrates River, officials said.
"In addition to that, we're going to exploit any intelligence that could lead us to the missing or captured soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division," said Army Maj. Curtis Crum, 3rd BCT operations officer. The two soldiers, Spc. Alex Jiminez and Pvt. Byron Fouty, went missing May 12.
"The goal of this joint effort with the Iraqi army and U.S. soldiers is to defeat any remaining extremists or al Qaeda in Iraq operatives on the western side of the Euphrates River in our zone," Crum said.
The operation has three phases: intelligence-gathering, establishing security and maintaining a presence.
Phase 2 began with the bombing and air assault. Units went into Owesat and Betra, knocking on doors and trying to identify anti-coalition forces and al Qaeda members, as well as looking for information that might lead to the whereabouts of Jiminez and Fouty.
The second and third phases overlapped. While troops on the ground established security after the air assault, a float bridge unit out of Hanau, Germany, the 502nd Engineer Company, began emplacement of a bridge that extends from Patrol Base Dragon across the Euphrates to extend the lines of communication.
"The movement of forces to clear the objective, since it is somewhat permissive, is going very smooth, so we were able to employ the bridge immediately," said Army Col. Dominic Caraccilo, 3rd BCT commander, adding that a good portion of the bridge was emplaced in the first day.
Also a part of the third phase is the construction of Patrol Base Kemple, where Company A, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 101st Airborne Division, will be based. The location has been established and will be operational by mid-December, officials said.
The patrol base is named for Army Cpl. Andrew Kemple, who was serving in Iraq with Company A, 3-187th Infantry Regiment, when he was killed Feb. 12, 2006.
From the timing of the bombing to boots on the ground, the commander of the Rakkasans said everything was on point and that he was pleased with what had happened so far.
"We expect nothing less than perfection when you do an air assault, because the risk associated ... is so high that you can't accept anything (else)," Caraccilo said. "Tactically, for us to be able to employ like this is pretty significant – that was exceptional."
He also noted how well his soldiers and those of the 3rd Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade worked together. "To be able to get on aircraft with pilots we've never really trained with shows that the Army truly is modular," he said. "That we can plug into another division and use their combat multipliers and be successful is another confirmation that the Army transformation worked."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy serves with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.)