I took command of the 3rd Infantry Division almost one year ago. I spent that first year building the team – the 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Benning in Columbus; the Combat Aviation Brigade at Hunter Army Airfield; and the First, Second, and Fourth Brigade Combat Teams at Fort Stewart. With our new modular Army, brigades are prepared to deploy individually, without their parent headquarters.
So when I arrived in Iraq almost two months ago, I was given a new team of magnificent Americans to lead. While I am still the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, I am also the commander of Task Force Marne, and we welcome the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.; and the 4th Brigade (Airborne) Combat Team from the 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Last week, these teams, along with my 3rd Brigade Combat Team from Fort Benning came together in our first Commander’s Conference. Task Force Marne represents soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from all walks of life, from New England to San Diego, from Canada to Australia, and I feel so very fortunate to be leading such an empowered team.
I also had the chance to visit some great soldiers from our 3/1 Cavalry Squadron, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The soldiers are living on Patrol Base McCarthy, which is on the northern edge of the Iraqi Army’s Combined Arms School. There, they live and work with the Iraqis, in a success story I’ve been continually noting.
As part of the Baghdad Security Plan, we are co-locating our soldiers in Iraqi towns in order to make the population feel secure and increase the ability of our fine soldiers to train Iraqis. Around Patrol Base McCarthy, human intelligence teams are also among the Iraqi population every day, gaining their trust, and learning information that helps save their brothers in arms.
Intelligence soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division gave me a lesson on some of their equipment and showed me handouts on how they target insurgents. I also walked through Baghdad International Airport, which will become the new home for our Combat Aviation Brigade in two weeks. Iraqi workers have been busy preparing some of the old terminals to house our rotary and fixed wing aircraft. In just two more weeks, our soldiers will be flying missions right out of Baghdad. They will be moving soldiers across the battlefield and monitoring routes to ensure soldiers on the ground are safe.
All of us grieve when we lose soldiers. This troop surge, although we are seeing success with the reduction of effective IEDs, is putting more soldiers in harm’s way. These past two weeks, we’ve lost some of our finest. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dwayne Moore was killed when a mortar landed on his forward operating base. Moore was an expert in his trade and a friend to all. Coalition forces were not the only ones present at his moving memorial. Alongside me was his brigade commander, his battalion commander, the commander of his sister battalion, the Iraqi army brigade commander and the mayor of Mahmudiyah, where his FOB was located.
If we are evaluating the success of the Iraqis taking responsibility for their country, there was nothing more moving than joining them at the memorial for one of my soldiers.
We also lost Staff Sgt. Michael Hullender from Decatur, who was what we call in the Army a “stud.” He moved to Alaska after serving in the Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning. He was a medic, and died trying to save his wounded buddies. He leaves behind a fiancé, Kyle, and loving parents Lucinda and Ralph.
I returned from that memorial and was able to promote one of our officers via video teleconference, so his family at Fort Stewart could watch the historic moment.
All over Iraq, technology is rapidly improving. We are arming our soldiers with the latest IED defeat technology, and our intelligence soldiers are fielding cutting edge equipment to perform their jobs. Our pilots are traversing our skies while monitoring forces on the ground, and their operations centers are watching their every move.
Our team is not yet complete. This month we eagerly await the arrival of our Combat Aviation Brigade and our 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Both will be joining us in our efforts to secure the area just outside Baghdad, which we all know is an important step in securing Iraq and bringing our soldiers home. Rock of the Marne!
Gen. Rick Lynch is commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield.
First Lt. Allie Chase contributed.