by Staff Sgt. Phillip Butterfield
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/18/2010 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (AFNS) -- Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors welcomed back the 4th Battalion, 17th Iraqi Army Brigade, here Aug. 16.
Not since the beginning of 2003, when Joint Base Balad was known as al Bakr Air Field, did the Iraqi military have a presence here. Now, more than seven years later, JB Balad is transitioning back to Iraqi control as some of the U.S. forces draw down and redeploy from Iraq.
"We (the people of Iraq) are thankful for everything the United States has done for our country," said Iraqi Lt. Gen. Rashid Flayah Muhammad Al-Halifi, the Iraqi Samarra Operations Center commander. "We are willing and prepared to take on the responsibility of providing security for Iraq. This is a happy day for the people of Iraq and our U.S. partners."
The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the Army 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and the Army 2-11 Field Artillery Regiment have worked as part of a joint team with other organizations at JB Balad to designate and repair buildings, build security fencing and gates, provide fuel points, and establish communication and access procedures, said Col. Michael Myers, 332 Expeditionary Mission Support Group commander.
"Together, we have brought this Iraqi Army unit side-by-side with us on to JB (Balad)," he said. "We celebrate every step on the journey to return custody of this base to the Iraqis, and we're proud of our Airmen and Soldiers for all they have done to make this major step possible."
The 4th Battalion, 17th Iraqi Army Brigade, will be the first of several Iraqi military units to enter JB Balad, continuing the security and prosperity of Iraq as U.S. servicemembers and their commands redeploy home or forward deploy to new operating locations.
"This is another level of partnership and the first step of many steps leading up to the turnover of this base to the government of Iraq as United States forces withdraw by December 31, 2011," said Maj. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, the 332nd AEW commander.
With U.S. servicemembers leaving Iraq, the well-being of the Iraqi people will be left in good hands, he said.
"The Iraqi Security Forces have proven to the world to be extremely capable and professional as they provide security for the Iraqi people," General Franklin said. "The 17th Iraqi Army Brigade of the Iraqi Army demonstrates this daily in the Salah-ad-Din province. This event symbolizes our enduring friendship and that first step of many for the eventual transfer of JB (Balad) back to the government of Iraq. We are proud to serve side-by-side with the 4th Battalion of the 17th Brigade of the Iraqi Army."
The Iraqi unit will be working with Army Task Force 2-11. TF 2-11 serves in the supporting role in partnered operations to advise, train and assist the Iraqi Army.
"Our focus in all our efforts is to develop the Iraqi Army's capacity in order to better enable them to conduct counter-terrorism operations and provide security for the Iraqi people," said Maj. Mark Sherkey, the 2-11 FAR Battalion executive officer.