The first wave of soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, United States Division-Center, departed Baghdad Aug. 13 as the last combat brigade to leave Iraq, as part of the responsible drawdown of troops in Iraq.
Soldiers with the 702nd Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, United States Division-Center prepared to travel home after their yearlong deployment assisting, training and advising the Iraqi security forces in and around the Baghdad area.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Pankey, a platoon sergeant with Company B, 702nd BSB, and a Salem, Mo., native, deployed during the initial invasion in 2003, during the surge of American troops in 2007 and is now closing a historic combat tour in 2010.
"To be a part of this historic last brigade combat team in Iraq is like getting closure, because I was one of the first in and now one of the last ones out [of Iraq]," Pankey said.
It is projected that by Aug. 31, all U.S. combat missions in Iraq will cease, and only 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in country to help move toward stability operations, advising, training and assisting the Iraqi security forces in building a strong Iraq.
As part of transitioning the Iraqi forces back in command of their country, U.S. soldiers worked closely teaching the Iraqis the smaller details of a strong security force.
"The Army was fully engaged in building the [Iraqi Army] infantry skills, but we didn’t really go through and explain the finer details," said 1st Sgt. Michael Sanders, first sergeant with Company B. "My unit was part of that this year, teaching the finer details. I think it was really key in supporting the Iraqis. It builds them and they are now supporting themselves."
The maintenance company worked hand-in-hand training the Iraqi Army maintenance personnel, Pankey said.
During his first two tours, Pankey said even though the American and Iraqi forces tried to work together, a bond was never really built.
"This year, working alongside Iraqis was something I never imagined," he said. "It’s really opened my eyes to their culture and their way of life and thinking. It made me understand why we had some problems before. The Iraqis understand now too, our ideas, so I think that’s a little of the cohesion that was built."
As American combat soldiers leave Iraq, training, advising and assisting the Iraqis continues.
"The Iraqis want the same outcome as we do," Sanders said. "We want them to be able to support themselves and to carry on and build their economy."