By Spc. Nathaniel Smith
4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs
BAGHDAD, Iraq – It's been 15 months since the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment entered a combat zone, answering its nation's call to serve.
In a rural area of southern Baghdad, the mechanized infantrymen set out on a mission to corral terrorism and protect the people of west Rashid.
Now, the Army has one message for the Soldiers out of Schweinfurt, Germany: Mission complete.
The Soldiers of 1-18 Inf. Regt. are set to return to their home station in November after having been deployed since August of 2006.
The challenges are not over for the troops, as now they have to convey what they've been through here in terms that their families will understand.
While the deployment was long and full of challenges, as are all, Command Sgt. Maj. Israr Choudhri, the senior non-commissioned officer of the 'Vanguards,' said the thought of his daughter made it all worth it.
"It was worth it because every day she went to school, I never worried that someone would attack my wife's car with an (improvised explosive device) or (rocket-propelled grenade)," he said. "In order to prevent that from happening to any one of our kids, if I was in Iraq for 15 months, it was all worth it."
Maj. Eric Timmerman, the operations officer for Task Force Vanguard, volunteered to join the unit after it had already deployed because he felt it was worth it as well.
Timmerman, who had already served as a battalion-level operations officer, actually worked with 1-18 Inf. Regt. in training the Soldiers to deploy, and he said being with the troops was one reason he volunteered to be in the position again.
"Believe it or not once you get to a certain rank, you spend a lot of time on the staff side of things often very removed from every day combat Soldiers and you miss that because really that's kind of why I came in," the Charlotte, N.C., native said. "It was an opportunity for me, so I jumped at that opportunity."
For Choudhri, it had always been about the Soldiers. The Karachi, Pakistan, native deployed with a military intelligence company as a first sergeant to Samarra and Mosul, and despite the change of position, his job was still the same: ensuring the welfare of his troops.
"My job as a first sergeant was about taking care of Soldiers," he said. "Now, as a battalion sergeant major, the duty does not change: taking care of Soldiers."
Now that the Vanguards are returning, the question arises, how will the troops tell their families what they went through in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Timmerman learned from his father, who served in Vietnam, about how to explain to his three boys, ages 9, 11 and 13, the trials and triumphs he and his troops endured.
"I remember he never really talked a whole lot about it. With my sons, I think for each one of them I'm going to have to sort of talk about things in a different manner. That will evolve over time as they get older," he said. "I'm not going to talk about the horrors of war with them at such an early age, but they need to know that. I want to be able to paint the experience on the good and the bad side as truthfully as possible."
Timmerman said one of the most difficult things to get his family to understand will be the conflict going on in Iraq.
"When you come to enforce the nation's political decisions, there are a lot of aspects to that. There's a whole range of dimensions of things you do, from killing to handing out school books," he said. "I want them to know that we came over here, and we did some killing, some killing was done to us, and that wasn't pretty. When that had to happen, often, other people were affected immediately. The family, somebody else was hurt. It's not as clean as shoot and kill, bad guy down, done."
One thing Timmerman feels is important for his kids to understand is the versatility of America's fighting forces.
"I think their country has trained an Army to be able to go and do these things that I don't think any other army in the world really does to the extent that we do or takes the amount of care we do to fix a school, to deliver school books and desks, to get packages from family members, and distribute those items to kids on the street; to try and have a positive outcome to this thing that we're doing," he said. "Hopefully, it transitions more to fixing and helping a country stand on its own as a democratic society so we have to do less killing."
Ultimately, Timmerman said his troops' ability to react to the complex set of circumstances they faced every day in the Rashid District is a point of pride.
"War isn't like a movie. War isn't like 'Band of Brothers.' There're so many more dimensions to it. By us being here, in probably one of the most violent places in all of Iraq, we touched a lot of people and we made a difference. We always sought ways to go about helping people. Even though we had our game faces on every day and we were ready to deal death, our Soldiers are good enough nowadays they can almost turn on and off like a switch. That's an incredible testament to the guys that are wearing this uniform at all levels. We have a lot to be proud of. I attribute that to discipline and the leadership that we have in this organization. The desire to make every place we went better every time was always there."