Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

A Tribute To Our Fallen Warriors

Nature’s reverential silence inspired the hearts of comrades gathered for the dedication of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2BCT) Fallen Warriors Memorial on April 16th at Camp Ramadi. Currently 57 names grace the new plaque, and 57 dogtags hang within the obelisk (the names and dog tags of the remaining Fallen Warriors will be added), above the 21st century “Bloody Bucket” of the 28th Infantry Division.

After a welcome by Lt. Col. Chris Yeakle, 2 BCT Commander COL John Gronski delivered the first words of the Code of Conduct of the U.S. Military, “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” He recounted the honor, courage, commitment, and respect with which our heroes performed their duty, concluding “I will strive not to be saddened by their death, but rather to be inspired by the way they chose to live.”

Designers, 2nd Lt. Colleen McGarry and Spc. Raul Gomez of Company C (Med) 228th Forward Support Battalion made this memorial a creation of their hearts, “built from the heart to be used by the heart.” 2nd Lt. McGarry asks us to “Use the memorial to remember, to grieve, and to heal…Allow it to change your heart when you visit.” The memorial is built of steel blasted by weapons, stone, and shattered glass, each element and shape representing part of our remembrance. 2nd Lt. McGarry continued, “It stands tall as a testament to the unique battle the living fight and the fallen have left.” As one stands before it, this open structure allows the Spirit within us to mingle with the Spirit around us, uniting memories and hopes among comrades, friends, and families.

Further leading us in thankfulness and honor for these lives, Sgt. Irving Addison of the 779th Engineers sang “Amazing Grace”, 1st Lt. Rose Forrest of the Headquarters Company read the roll of names, and 1st Lt. Burke Sorenson of the 2-222nd Field Artillery played “Taps” with his bugle from the roof of the Brigade Tactical Operations Center.

I hope you will visit the Fallen Warriors Memorial in Pennsylvania. I will. As 2nd Lt. McGarry said, “It is you and your heart that will find in it what you seek.” I experienced this event when I visited that evening. Lighted, the colors of the inner steel look afire. By the firelight, there is romance between partners in remembrance, between time in combat by the fallen, and time at home by the family, now united. Even the shapes of blasted holes in the steel, indiscriminate in battle and by day, seem like recognizable figures by night. By this memorial, the mind and heart bring order and creation out of chaos, creating meaning and new life for us survivors.

Also, use your physical senses with your memorial. See it closely and hear the dogtags rustle in the breeze like whispering conversations. Touch the hard metal and feel the power of courage and commitment, honor, duty, and respect. Smell the life of Nature around it, breathe deeply, and taste the tears of grief, lightly yet bravely shed in the renewal of your own dedication.

By: Chaplain Lt. Col. Charles Purinton - Task Force 1-172 Armor Battalion

Saturday, April 01, 2006

 

The Warrior's Code

From time to time it is important for American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to reflect upon why they serve. Personally, I believe that the reason a Warrior decides to stay in the military, and continue to serve, is usually much different from the reasons for joining the military in the first place. Over time as young troops develop into Non Commissioned Officers, Commissioned Officers, and leaders in their own right; true Warriors continue to wear the uniform because of what they can give rather than for what they can get.

As American Warriors, we live by a set of values, a Code of Conduct, and we are bound by an oath. It serves all Warriors well to examine the meaning of our values, our code, and the oath we have taken.

The values Soldiers live by include Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Marines live by the values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. We have all sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. In part, our Code of Conduct proclaims that we fight in the forces that guard our country and our way of life, and we are prepared to give our life in their defense. Additionally, the Code reminds us that we are Americans fighting for freedom, responsible for our actions, and dedicated to the principles which made our country free.

Our values, the oath we take, and our Code of Conduct are inspiring to read but are most powerful when lived. By demonstrating these ideals we clearly separate ourselves from the brutal and cowardly insurgents we fight in Iraq. Everything I have seen, exemplified in the service of our Warriors, demonstrates that we live by our values and therefore we will triumph.

To the troops of our BCT, I encourage each and every one of you to reflect on our values, our Code, and the oath you swore to uphold, so help you God. To the families, friends, Americans, and supporters of liberty all over the world, I ask that you give thanks that there are brave American military men and women in Iraq and throughout the world - willing to sacrifice to protect those who cannot yet protect themselves.


Written by Col. John L Gronski
2/28 BCT Commander

Sunday, March 26, 2006

 

Historic Day in Ramadi

Two historic events brought another level of hope and promise to the people of Ramadi on Friday.

The first event revolved around the “Sons of Al Anbar.” The name given to the brave men who decided to stand up and say “Enough!” to the terrorist plaguing Ramadi and other parts of Al Anbar Province, by becoming Police officers.

Nearly 200 of them returned to Ramadi after 10 weeks of intense training at Baghdad’s police academy. They represent the first of over 1100 recruits that are in training and will soon be available to patrol the streets of Ramadi and other areas of Al Anbar.

Also on Friday, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s Iraqi Non Commissioned Officers Academy graduated its first five Iraqi Army Sergeants. The academy was setup and is run by the 1-172nd Armor of the 2 / 28 BCT.

The purpose of the academy is to help empower the Iraqi sergeants.

The Iraqi army was modeled after the old Soviet doctrine of how to fight wars. In that system, officers made all of the decisions. The most serious drawback was and is, there is no room for flexibility at the platoon level and lower. If things do not go exactly as planned (and in war they never do) than a sergeant must wait for approval from his officer before adjusting to the situation.

American Sergeants have the ability to make decisions at all levels. They are trained to react within the guidelines of the officers overall plan of attack. The end result being a highly adaptable and mobile force that can react to almost any situation at the lowest possible level.

In a fight against an ever evolving insurgency, the ability to “adapt and overcome” will be a critical new tool in the Iraqi arsenal.


Don’t let the number throw you. Obviously five Sergeants is not even a drop in the bucket of the number of Soldiers that need to be trained, but it is a significant beginning. The first class was a pilot program to get the academy started out on the right foot. Kudos must go out to Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Cockroft, Staff Sgt. Ron Baran and Specialist Ron Dangler for their hard work with this project. The instructors and designers of the academy will now sit down and revamp anything needed to make it ready for larger classes.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

 
Around 5pm on March 17, 2006 the insurgents once again showed the people of Ramadi just how heartless and cowardly they can be.

Insurgents loyal to Al Qaida fired 4 mortars into a populated area near the town of Khalidiyah. The mortars impacted near 3 small Iraqi children who were innocently playing outside their home.

Soldiers from the 1-3-1 Iraqi Army, who were nearby, heard the explosions from the mortar rounds and immediately went to the site of the attack.

Upon arriving on the scene, they immediately begin to treat the 3 children.
One of the young children was hurt in both arms, but the wounds were not serious and was able to be treated on site. The other 2 children were not so fortunate.

The second child, a young boy, received severe shrapnel wounds to his right side. The third child, a young girl, received severe shrapnel wounds to the groin area. The two seriously injured children were medically evacuated to a coalition advanced treatment facility in Al Taqqadum. In almost all cases, the terrorist are not well trained on mortar’s. The impact from a mortar round is deadly to a large area. The terrorist fire the weapon without knowing, or caring, exactly where it will land and who it will hurt and kill. Attacks such as this are unnecessary acts of violence against the innocent people of Iraq.

 

5 Insurgents are Killed in Ramadi

The 2/28 Brigade Combat Team has been taking the fight to the insurgents for the past eight months. March 17th, was no different. Soldiers from Task Force Saber dealt a big blow to the terrorists in Ramadi’s Tammin district by killing 5 of them.

The day started out with a bang, latterly, for TF Saber when around 9:30am local time, one of their Hummves was struck by an IED. Fortunately for the Soldiers, the Hummer was an M1114. That model of Hummer can take a pretty good punch. The blast was big enough to flatten 3 of the tires on the truck, but the crew inside was uninjured.

The situation quickly improved when the patrol was able to locate 2 of the insurgents that placed the IED. A gunner in the patrol quickly ensured the area was free of civilians and then engaged the insurgents, killing both of them.

In another incident, a Sniper from TF Saber observed 2 insurgents attempting to place an IED in a spot that they had used previously. Not very smart.

The Sniper ensured the area was clear of civilians and took a shot that killed 1 of the insurgents. Unfortunately, the 2nd insurgent was able to flee into a crowd of civilians before the Sniper could safely get another shot off.

A Marine EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team was sent to remove the IED from the street before it was able to hurt any civilians.

In yet a third incident, a TF Saber patrol was able to locate an insurgent, holding a weapon and using binoculars, observing their movement. The hunted became the hunter and the patrol was able to kill the insurgent before he was able to do any harm to the Soldiers or civilians in the street.

The important thing to note here is that all three incidents involved IED’s in a densely populated area. Parts of Ramadi look like any large American city. The houses are separated by thin walls, with children playing in the streets and people walking along, trying to get to work or wherever.

The insurgents hide these IEDs in trash along the side of the streets. They don’t care who is in the line of fire when trying to attack Iraqi and US forces. Many people, including women and children, are hurt and killed by these devices.

You would think that the citizens of Ramadi would tell Iraqi and US forces about the IEDs so that Soldiers would come and take the IEDs away before any of them were hurt. They didn’t. The reason is simple, if they did, the insurgents would come around and hurt or even kill members of the family that were seen helping Iraqi and US forces keep them safe.

However, the situation is changing drastically. The citizens of Ramadi are becoming tired of the threats and watching their friends and loved ones being hurt weather they help Iraqi and US forces or not.

Everyday, more and more citizens are coming forward to report the location of IEDs, weapon caches and the insurgents themselves.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

 

The Truth About Ramadi

Today I received an e-mail from my father that caused me to spend some time thinking about the real situation in Iraq, particularly in light of the President's recent address to the Country. After sending my father a response, I decided that I wanted to respond, not just to him, as a son to a father, but rather to all of you that I care for and maybe more accurately as one American to my fellow Americans. All of you receiving this are friends or family that I care deeply about, and miss a great deal. I also respect all of you and know that we don't always agree on the decisions made by the leadership of our nation. In all of the discussions, debates, and sometimes heated disagreements among us, what has always remained clear in my mind is this: all of us, in the end, want what is best for our country. I will tell you that in my view what we are doing in Iraq today, and more importantly the decisions our nation's leaders make in the weeks, and months ahead about what we will do in Iraq define and will define what and who we are as Americans. In truth, I believe nothing less than the future of our country and our way of life is at stake.

I actually just got to see the President's address this morning, and I think he did a good job. I also listened to Senator Biden and a few others talk about Iraq. I have also heard my Congressman, Congressman Murtha over the last couple of weeks. Here is my opinion:

Congressman Murtha is WRONG. Moreover, some politicians in D.C. and elsewhere that are, in my opinion, using Iraq for political leverage for the upcoming elections, are not just wrong, but seriously misguided in their efforts. I know that there are many, and maybe Congressman Murtha is one of these, that have legitimate concerns, and are seeking honest and open debate about whether or not we should remain in Iraq. I think that honest and open debate is good and that this process is at the heart of what it means to live in a free society. I expect nothing less from those we have entrusted with the leadership of our nation. They must ask the hard questions. I also know that this very debate appears to lend strength to our enemies because they are able to point to it and say: "we are having success with causing the Americans to doubt themselves". Many of the enemies of freedom see our questioning of ourselves as a lack of resolve; an inability to see a thing through. Those of us that are blessed to live in a free society know that they are misguided. However, it is also the responsibility of those that would seek to engage in this debate to be educated in the reality, the facts if you will, about what is actually occurring in Iraq. Those politicians (and unfortunately, from what I have heard from him, Congressman Murtha is one of these) that claim to KNOW what the story is in Iraq and that we are not being successful, are either misled by their own staffers, or are ignoring the facts to gain political advantage in the upcoming elections.

Here is the truth in Ramadi, Iraq:

We are now, and we have been, making tremendous and yes to quote the Vice President "remarkable" progress! I have personally seen and been part of the efforts of an Iraqi Battalion that has come from a thrown together militia force to the point where they now control some of their own battlespace. Now what does that actually mean?

It means that a portion of Ramadi, Iraq that was completely lawless, with citizens that were terrified of what would happen to them if they were even suspected of supporting the coalition or the Iraqi government even two months ago now openly support the Iraqi soldiers living in their community because they provide a return of the Rule of Law and an end to the Rule of Might.

It means that the children of that small community now are able to play outside, and see their friends, and go to school, without being afraid of inadvertently being caught up in an explosion aimed at whoever happens to be in the area when the insurgents decide to initiate it.

It means that the Sunnis that live in Ramadi, those that want nothing more than an end to the violence, and that is the vast, vast majority of people here, could freely exercise their RIGHT (yes, they have RIGHTS now because of our successes) to vote for the future of their nation, and their community. Moreover, that very freedom, at least in this small part of Iraq that 3-1-7 controls, an area of Iraq that is inhabited almost exclusively by Sunni Muslims, was provided by mostly Shia Muslims. More importantly, the members of this community know that, and are extremely grateful for their presence- the presence of the Third Battalion of the First Brigade of the Seventh Division OF THE IRAQI SECURITY FORCES (regardless of their religious customs).

It means that bit by painful bit; the insurgency is being crushed by the efforts of Iraqis that truly want a free society. Not just the efforts of the soldiers, but also the Iraqi contractors that support them, and the people of the communities that support them.

It means that the quality of life for the people in this small part of Iraq is growing better on a daily basis. Water, power, roads, sewage, schools, food, all these things are getting better. Slowly, painfully, sometimes, agonizingly slowly, but consistently getting better.

It means that the Iraqi Army, under strength, under equipped, living in conditions that make the worst slums in the U.S. seem like a great place to live, are daily putting their lives at risk (and sometimes losing their lives) to safeguard the free future of their country. Why? Not for the pay (it isn't very much, and most could make enough to support their families doing something else), but because they know that the only way to ensure their families safety and freedom in the future is to stand up and be counted with those that want the Rule of Law to govern and not the Rule of Might. They are uneducated, poor, and unskilled, but they are brave, and they are dedicated, and they will WIN!

It means that Victory is attainable in Iraq. I have heard the detractors say that no one has defined Victory in Iraq. Victory in Iraq is easily defined. When the Iraqi people have attained the ability to ensure that the Rule of Law and not the Rule of Might governs their land, when children can play outside safe from senseless violence, when the Iraqi quality of life consistently gets better on a daily basis, when the Iraqi people take ownership of their problems and seek to find a solution to them even when this involves personal sacrifice, when Iraqis can put aside religious differences to work together for a better way of life, then Victory will be achieved in Iraq.

In the small part of Iraq that 3-1-7 controls, a part of Iraq that is in the very heart of the insurgent's stronghold of Ramadi, Victory is coming ever closer. We are not there yet, and they still need our help, but they are winning.

Finally it means that the only way that we will fail to gain Victory is if WE give up. If we now, as a nation, say: it is too much money, too much sacrifice, too much blood, the Iraqis that are working, sacrificing and fighting for a better way of life will fail and the Rule of Might will return to Iraq with all of the horror it can muster. Regardless of the reasons for us being here in the first place, right or wrong; we are here. We as a nation have a true obligation, and a DUTY to see this through. We, as a country, are truly living up to our ideals for one of the first times in our nation's history. We are living up to those ideals, not because we came here, but because we are willing to STAY here. We have given the Iraqi people HOPE. God save our nation if, in our selfishness, our impatience, and yes our arrogance we decide to quit now. We would make of ourselves the very thing that our enemies say we are: a people and a country unwilling and unable to live up to the standards and beliefs that we claim. I do not believe that our country is a purveyor of false hope and hypocrisy, and I do not believe that we will allow ourselves to fail in this war. We must "Stay the Course" in Iraq, just as our forefathers have in every great challenge to our Nation since its birth. Nothing less is acceptable.

I love you and miss you all. As a person, as a friend, as a nephew, as a cousin, as a son and a grandson, as a husband, and as a father, I would far prefer to be at home with my family and my friends, but as an American, there is no place I would rather be right now, than Ramadi, Iraq.

Written by Maj. M. T. Vesely - USMC

Sunday, February 26, 2006

 

The 2/28 Brigade Combat Team (BCT)

The 2/28 Brigade Combat Team (BCT) consists of approximately 5,500 Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors and approximately 4,000 Iraqi Security Forces. About 2,200 of these Soldiers are from the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard (PAARNG). The rest of the troops are from National Guard units in other states or from active duty component battalions and other units. The 2,200 Soldiers from the PAARNG are from all throughout the state of Pennsylvania although the 2nd Brigade headquarters is in Washington, PA (this is in the western part of the state). The deployment of the 2/28 BCT is the largest deployment of a 28th Infantry Division (PA ARNG) combat force since WWII.

The 2/28 BCT is assigned to the 2nd Marine Division and the primary area of operation (AO) for the 2/28 BCT is the city of Ramadi, a former insurgent stronghold, in Al Anbar province. This area of operation is considered by the Multi National Forces – Iraq (MNF-I) to have the most intense insurgent activity.

The 2/28 BCT is responsible for a very large AO encompassing approximately 280 square kilometers and a variety of terrain. 2 28 focuses its operations along the Euphrates River with Ramadi being the main effort. Ramadi is a city of approximately 400,000 people and the capitol of Al Anbar Province.

The 2/28 BCT took over operations in their AO on 28 July 2005 and will remain in Iraq until early summer of 2006. When 2/28 BCT leaves an active duty Brigade will replace it. Currently the 2/28 BCT is the only National Guard Brigade that has its own battle space (ground that the BCT is responsible for).

The 2/28 BCT mission is to neutralize the insurgency within this AO. The BCT conducts operations to kill or detain insurgents, discover weapons caches, detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs), engage in dialogue with community and government leaders, train and integrate Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, and conduct civil affairs projects that improve sewer, water, energy, medical capabilities, and schools.

The mission of the 2/28 BCT in Al Anbar is historically significant. Ramadi is the spiritual center of the Sunni triangle since it is the Provincial Capitol of Al Anbar Province. The insurgency has been strongest here because Ramadi is the home to many former baathists and home to many former Iraqi Army military officers who served under Sadaam. Ramadi also lies along the Euphrates River and supply routes are easily accessible from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Many people believe that as goes Ramadi and Al Anbar, so goes the rest of the country. December 15th was a significant day for 2/28 BCT and the city of Ramadi because over 100,000 people (about 59% of eligible voters) went to the polls and voted in an historic election. Just two months prior on referendum day less than 10,000 voted. This was seen as a huge success.

2/28 BCT now has control of many areas within the battle space that insurgents had been free to maneuver. Three areas in particular that are now in coalition hands rather than insurgent hands are central Ramadi, Jazeera (a large area north of Ramadi and north of the Euphrates River), and Tameem (a Ramadi neighborhood southwest of the central part of the city).

The Brigade has killed or detained over 1,400 insurgents since assuming control of the battle space on 28 July 2005. But along with using force to kill and detain insurgents the BCT has also helped improve the infrastructure in Ramadi and surrounding areas, including over 50 schools and medical facilities.

Over $300,000 has been spent on school supplies benefiting approximately 15,000 children. We have spent approximately $1.8 million providing basic medical supplies to citizens of Ramadi. Overall we have spent over $27 million on a myriad of projects to include those that improve water, energy, and sewage along with medical and education. The Soldiers and Marines of the 2/28 BCT are proud of these accomplishments.

One of the challenges for American Soldiers and Marines operating in Iraq is the cultural and religious differences and the language barrier. During our pre-mobilization training we learned some basic words and phrases. However, our primary means of communicating to Iraqis when we have extensive conversations with Iraqis is through the use of interpreters. Iraqi Army personnel also help Coalition Force troops communicate with average Iraqi citizens.

Some people ask what is the hardest thing to deal with here – is it the dangers that exist? The separation from loved ones is the hardest thing to deal with. We all love and miss our families and friends. Losing comrades is also tough and our thoughts and prayers always go out to the loved ones of our fallen warriors.

The attitude of the Iraqi civilians toward CF and IA Soldiers is mostly positive. The insurgents use a great deal of murder and intimidation tactics to prevent the populace from supporting CF and IA, so generally people are less open and friendly if insurgents are in the area. The people know they will be beaten or murdered if they are perceived to be friendly to CF. The insurgents are very brutal. That is why more and more people are turning against the insurgents. Of course this takes great courage but many of the Iraqis are willing to risk their life in order to gain freedom from the insurgents and their evil ideology and brutal ways.

The 2/28 BCT continues to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Ramadi and Al Anbar Province. The Soldiers realize they are following in the footsteps of their forefathers and are very proud that they are making continual progress in the most intense insurgent area in the entire country. The Soldiers are confident that through their efforts Iraq will become a peaceful and prosperous country and the people of Iraq will be able to live free and raise their families without fear.

As a Brigade Commander, part of my day is spent studying intelligence reports and planning for future operations. My favorite activity is circulating throughout the AO meeting with subordinate commanders and our troops. American Soldiers and Marines are extremely dedicated and I get inspired simply by being in their presence. The Iraqi Army troops are very dedicated to securing their country and I view them as patriots. I also spends time working with Ramadi and Al Anbar government official and community leaders to help develop plans to increase security within the city and discuss future civil affairs projects. I typically work at least 16 hours a day though some days are longer depending on current operations. I love my work and it is easy to maintain a high level of energy. Although I enjoy physical training and sports I have not had much time for either since I have been in Iraq. I like to read history and I sometimes have a little time to read for enjoyment each day. The BCT conducts regular night operations. The US military owns the night and we are able to achieve surprise and stealth when maneuvering after dark.

The general mood and attitude of the Soldiers is very good. Their morale is high. They believe in what they are doing and they see improvement. The troops display tremendous resolve and are even more determined than ever to put forth great effort in order to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The BCT realizes that our work in Iraq helps to make this region safer and our nation safer from the threat of terrorism. We would much rather fight terrorists over here than fight them in the United States. We realize that our families and loved ones are safer because of our work here.

The support from all those back home has been tremendous and all of the troops appreciate the encouragement from loved ones and fellow Americans. To follow the 2/28 BCT throughout its deployment in Iraq view the Iron Soldier website at http://ironsoldiers.army.mil

Written by COL John Gronski, Brigade Commander, 2/28 BCT
26 February 2006 – Ramadi, Iraq

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