Like so many of the soldiers I lead, I miss family and friends at home in the Coastal Empire and beyond. There is not a second that goes by that I don’t think about the families and the community we left behind. Our reunion will be sweet for sure, but for now we do our duty and focus on the mission at hand.
The Army announced last week that active component, regular Army soldiers deployed and deploying to this region will spend no more than 15 months in theater and no less than 12 months at home.
This came as no surprise to our soldiers because we had told them all to expect an eighteen month deployment. I still caution them to not be fixated on a set date for returning home. That time will come. We will complete our assigned tasks.
Each soldier will be compensated with extra pay each month after the twelve spent here. But we all know that it is still tough to be separated from loved ones. In spite of the delay, they remain motivated and they are doing a magnificent job. Morale is very high across the force.
I want to thank all of you who have expressed your support to us over the course of the last four weeks and longer. Our loved ones at home are comforted by you and we are in your debt. The “Adopt A Soldier” program is in full swing here. Thanks.
In my role as commander of this great division, I travel around Iraq to visit units and gain situational understanding.
En route I often look out of the aircraft and see Iraqi children playing soccer in dusty fields and trying to swim in half-filled pools. They remind me of our children in the USA.
They want to have fun. And their parents want them to have a better life than they themselves had. For now their dream is just out of reach. They lack the security and resources necessary to have the joy freedom provides.
And that’s where your division, the 3rd Infantry Division, comes in.
A key to establishing security for the Iraqis is stopping weapons and extremists with their foreign ideologies from entering the city of Baghdad. Today, Dog Face soldiers, our 1st Brigade (Raiders) and 3rd Brigade (Sledgehammer), are performing that task on both sides of this nation’s capital.
In Ramadi, the Raider Brigade has established numerous outposts in that former bastion of terror. Now, civilians have greater freedom. There are jobs, reconstruction and citywide improvement projects. Our troops have reduced the number of terrorist attacks from 25 per day to four and even zero per day in just three short months. Civilians are joining the political process there and rejecting the insurgents.
Another of our tasks is to help train the Iraqi Security Forces.
In many parts of Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces operate on their own. In others, they are teamed with U.S. soldiers until they are sufficiently trained and equipped to perform the task independently. I have met many of their leaders and they are a proud lot. Our 1st Brigade Combat Team has hosted recruiting drives and Sunnis are joining the Iraqi Army and police.
You would be pleased to know that our great soldiers in the Marne Division are enjoying some success. They are moving into neighborhoods with the Iraqi Security Forces, conducting patrols, serving jointly with the Iraqi Army and police.
I am so very proud of our soldiers. They are building schools and they are helping Iraqi citizens to obtain clean water for drinking as well as watering of their crops.
In time, the children in this region will have their security and be able to play, grow and enjoy the freedom we enjoy at home. For now someone must stop the terrorist threat. And that takes courageous young men and women like your friends and neighbors now deployed.
I have had the privilege of awarding Soldiers medals for bravery and valor. Pinning these awards on a soldier’s chest is the greatest honor a leader can have. May God bless each one.
Sadly, I have also attended memorial services for fallen heroes. Staff Sergeant Harrison Brown and Private First Class David “Neil” Simmons were assigned to our Third Brigade Combat Team from Fort Benning.
They were killed in action here while on patrol. Improvised explosive devices and indirect fire remain our greatest threats and we are working hard to defeat these systems and find the persons responsible for creating them.
Staff Sergeant Brown left behind a wife and three daughters. PFC Simmons’ mother told his fellow soldiers that her son had died doing what he wanted to do — what he believed in. Their families can rest assured that they were cherished.
I hug our soldiers in their victories and I am there to console them in their grief. If insurgents are nothing else, they are the breakers of hearts. And I have tired from attending memorial services and tree dedications.
As I stare at the photos of soldiers who have fallen, I think of their families at home, their friends left behind, and the dreams they did not fulfill.
Then I pray and resolve myself to honor their memory by doing my duty to the best of my ability so that others may live freely. Rock of the Marne.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch is commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
Lt. Col. Randy A. Martin and 1st Lt. Allie Chase contributed to this article.