By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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.