By Army Sgt. Dale Sweetnam
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2008 - The view from the sky indicates the tide in Iraq may be turning. Soldiers of 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, made the move from Camp Taji to Camp Stryker at the Baghdad International Airport about a month ago. Army Maj. Parker Frawley, the unit's operations officer, said the squadron already is seeing the difference U.S. forces are making across Iraq.
In Camp Taji, 4-3rd ACR was involved in an intense battle for Sadr City. The soldiers fought daily, to defeat Iranian-backed "special groups" in Baghdad's Sadr City district and to eliminate the indirect-fire threat to Baghdad.
"Obviously, during that time frame, the fight in Sadr City was a very kinetic fight," Frawley said.
The unit moved to Camp Striker and Multinational Division Center, where its AH-64D Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk pilots are experiencing a different pace. In its new home, the squadron is part of Task Force 49, Multinational Division Center Combat Aviation Brigade.
Frawley said threats from roadside bombs and direct and indirect fire are fewer in Multinational Division Center than what the squadron experienced in Sadr City. The aircraft that once fought constantly in a small geographic region now are responsible for a much larger area; they support ground forces by providing surveillance and reconnaissance.
"With the threat of these areas being lower and the ground guys focusing more on nonlethal operations, we, of course, conduct fewer lethal operations as well," he said. "If you look at the big picture, the less we have to shoot and destroy targets or kill insurgents indicates that we are getting closer to mission success in Iraq."
Frawley said the changing operational tempo in Multinational Division Center also has allowed the squadron to catch up on maintenance and give the pilots a break.
"The changing nature of our attack and reconnaissance missions reflects a greater level of security among the people, a demonstrated capability of the Iraqi police and Army, and a general improvement in the daily lives of the population," Army Col. Chandler C. Sherrell, Task Force 49 commander, said. "This would not be possible without the continued efforts of our ground partners to transition security to the Iraqis and aid in the economic development of their areas. These positive trends have allowed us to provide a greater degree of overwatch and a reduced level of direct action."
This shift in focus for 4-3rd ACR was recently highlighted by its involvement in the Aug. 16 celebration of the Birth of the 12th Imam, an important Muslim holiday that draws hundreds of thousands of Shiia pilgrims to Karbala each year. In previous years, daily reconnaissance patrols were necessary to provide surveillance of the crowds and early warning of any potential threats to the Iraqis participating in the pilgrimage. This year, the squadron's mission remained more of an overwatch, as Iraqi ground and air assets led the security efforts.
"Because of the progress of the Iraqis and their ability to handle their own internal affairs with minimal coalition support, the decision was made to minimize our presence around Karbala," Frawley said. "It bolsters the Iraqi's confidence -- not only the Iraqi security forces' confidence, but [also] the confidence of the Iraqi population in the security forces' ability to do its job.
"It's a success story," he added. "Any responsibilities we can hand over to the Iraqis that they can execute with a degree of success, gets us closer to mission completion here."
(Army Sgt. Dale Sweetnam serves in the Task Force 49 Public Affairs Office.)