Story by Sgt 1st Class Seth Laughter, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Public Affairs NCOIC
AL ANBAR, Iraq – The sun blazed.
Eight years ago, the sun beat down mercilessly on paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division as they fought the forces of Saddam’s regime, freeing Iraq from a dictatorship. A few years later, the sun still baked the earth as these paratroopers secured towns and provinces to make way for the first democratic elections in Iraq. In 2006 the 2nd BCT was called on once again to face the brutal sun and answer the president’s call for a troop surge to stabilize Iraq and quell the increase in terrorist attacks. Finally, after nearly a decade, with the middle-eastern sun still burning high in the sky the 2nd BCT, now the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, returns to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn to assist the Iraqi Security Forces in maintaining a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq as well as lead the transition of U.S. Forces out of Iraq.
And, the sun still blazes.
Though violence and extremist terrorist attacks have been on a steady decline, the paratroopers of the unit are faced with a daunting task that may seem like a double-edged sword. They must simultaneously advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces, close and hand over U.S. bases to the Iraqi government, and still retain the ability to support U.S. forces and maintain security. With the deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. Troops set in the Security Force Agreement drawing near, the 2/82 is uniquely capable of accomplishing all these tasks.
“As an airborne infantry brigade, the 2/82 is already unique and extremely versatile in the type of missions they can accomplish,” stated Maj. Chris Brautigam, the 2nd AAB, 82nd Abn. Div., brigade historian.
For the last two years the 2nd AAB has filled the role of the Army component of the Nation’s Global Response Force. In this role the unit was ready to deploy world-wide in less than 18 hours to respond to any crisis. During their time at the GRF, the 2/82 deployed in response to a massive earthquake that struck the island nation of Haiti. The 2/82 was one of the first units on ground and quickly began to provide humanitarian aid to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince. “The training and execution of the GRF mission created a unit full of soldiers who are able to adapt to changing mission requirements and who are able to accomplish any mission, whether it was training Afghan Security Forces as 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment did in or handing out humanitarian aid in Haiti,” Brautigam said.
At the end of June, the 2nd AAB will assume responsibility for the advise and assist mission from the 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, but with the additional duty of closing U.S. bases and handing them over to the Government of Iraq, a process termed “reposturing.”
“Reposturing,” said Lt. Col. Steven Hart, the reposture assistance team leader, “really contains two different items. First is return of bases to the Government of Iraq. Second is moving the units of the brigade to their next location for their follow on mission. Could be a follow on mission in Iraq, could be a follow on mission in the States.”
But this is not an easy task considering U.S. forces have been occupying these bases for more than eight years. Hart compared the task to trying to move a family and how much a family can accumulate in eight years. Then he asked to multiply that by a few thousand and also take into consideration that one family would leave behind anything they thought the next family could possibly use.
All that remaining equipment has to be inventoried and returned to the U.S. Government, while leaving the base functional and ready for the Iraqi Security Forces to quickly occupy and utilize.
“What we do,” stated Hart, “is to make sure that the facilities on the camp degrade in such a way that is maximizes our operational capabilities, don’t cause any unnecessary discomfort to the soldier, but at the same time we have to get everyone out of here on time.”
Because of its long history of operations in Iraq, the 2nd AAB has one asset that will increase its capabilities to accomplish this variety of simultaneous tasks, that asset is experience. The 2nd AAB has leaders at all levels who have been with unit for every major operation in Iraq. From the initial invasion into Iraq, elections, the “Surge,” to Operation New Dawn, these paratroopers have fought, trained, and led through years of hard won battles in Iraq.
One of these leaders is 1st Sgt. Jerry Heim, the senior enlisted advisor for B Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, who recounted his missions in Iraq.
“The first invasion it was more open battle,” he said. “I was focused on my team and getting them home safe. You knew who the bad guys were. During the surge, it was less force on force, more counter-insurgency operations and working with the local population. We are transitioning to OND where the Iraqis are in the forefront. It’s been a drastic change.”
Despite the changes of the current mission in Iraq, Heim explained his opinion on the unit’s capabilities.
“The noncommissioned officers and officers of this brigade have the adaptability to accomplish this mission. We’ve done Haiti, Afghanistan, the missions in Iraq. We can adapt. We are awesome at doing that. We can accomplish this mission. We will excel and we will set the standard again.”
That mission includes continuing to train the Iraqi Security Forces and ensuring they are capable of maintaining safety for the Iraqi population. The brigade has been augmented with numerous specifically trained personnel who have been assigned to various ISF units to advise and assist them in planning and conducting operations. These Security Transition Team members sole purpose it to bring the 2nd AAB’s expertise together with ISF units to strengthen their capabilities.
“You couldn’t ask for a better brigade to do this mission,” said Heim. “The 2/82 has always been a brigade that the Army goes to for tough missions. We’ve always been called for the hard missions, we complete them and we set the standard.”