War on Terrorism

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Mission continues for Wisconsin Guard members in Iraq

By 1st Lt. Peter Owen, Public Affairs Representative
724th Engineer Battalion
Task Force Badger

As Operation Iraqi Freedom ends and Operation New Dawn begins, Task Force Badger stands as the enduring Army engineer battalion in Iraq - part of the estimated 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq to ensure sustained stability.

Task Force Badger is led by the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 724th Engineer Battalion, and includes National Guard units from Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico in addition to active component units from Fort Riley, Kan. and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., as well as Army Reserve units from Illinois and Virginia.

"As the focus of our operations turns to advise, train and assist, our Soldiers continue their dedicated efforts in route clearance, bridging and construction throughout Iraq," said Lt. Col. David O'Donahue, Task Force Badger commander.

Today, Task Force Badger engineers are working jointly with the Iraqis in an advise, train and assist capacity to prepare the Iraqi Army for sustainable success in the future.

Simultaneously, Task Force Badger is actively engaged in reducing the U.S. logistical footprint in Iraq by withdrawing equipment from Iraq for use in the states, transfer to Afghanistan or donation to Iraqi Forces.

A few months ago, U.S. forces were solely conducting some of the most important engineer operations in Iraq, including route clearance and military bridging. Today, Task Force Badger has assigned a team of Soldiers to the Iraqi Engineer School in a role similar to that of adjutant professors. The Iraqis maintain responsibility for the instruction and administration, while the U.S. Soldiers remain available as subject matter experts to assist when needed.

The operational relationship between Iraqi and U.S. engineers has advanced to a point where some missions are now conducted bilaterally. Just months ago, joint missions were a goal in the transition. Today, Iraqi forces are involved in both the planning and execution of a wide spectrum of engineer operations.

Military bridging is a highly technical operation that requires aptitude in bridging, construction, and waterborne operations. The development of Iraqi responsibility has occurred in phases beginning with instruction, followed by building, launching and dissembling military bridges in a training environment. Recently, Iraqi and U.S. engineers began working jointly to complete both bridge removals and emplacements throughout theater.

Task Force Badger units have become increasingly active in involving Iraqi Forces in route clearance patrols. Within months, interactions between U.S. and Iraqis have developed from sharing information at checkpoints to jointly conducting patrols and conducting maintenance. Today, in addition to their own route clearance patrols, Iraqis and U.S. Soldiers are conducting some patrols together. These joint patrols are the result of the advising and training that has taken place between U.S. and Iraqi combat engineers. These patrols are jointly planned, briefed through interpreters, and conducted as a team. Following the missions, the U.S. and Iraqi commanders discuss performance measures to sustain and improve upon in the future.

The 228th Mobility Augmentation Company of Task Force Badger and Iraqi soldiers conduct a joint briefing prior to a route clearance patrol. Task Force Badger photo by 1st Lt. Peter Owen

Excess equipment in theater is departing Iraq at a rapid rate because of the dedicated efforts by the logistics personnel within Task Force Badger. Capt. Bryan Huebsch, the battalion's logistics officer, to date has worked to move more than $35 million of government property and equipment from Joint Base Balad. Among the equipment are Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and construction equipment now being relocated to Afghanistan or returned to the United States.

The end of combat operations in Iraq does not mean there is no danger to U.S. troops or Iraqi citizens. "Violence will not end with our combat operations," President Barack Obama told the nation Aug. 31.

"Leaders are remaining cognizant that a threat still exists and are continuing to take all steps to care for their Soldiers," O'Donahue said. "Although the name of the mission has changed, our commitment to promoting peace and stability through our engineer operations remains firm."

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