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    Falcons lead 'surge' into Baghdad - Paratroopers restore security to Iraqi capital during 15-month deployment

    By Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor
    2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division

    BAGHDAD – As 2006 drew to a close, American TV sets were filled with images of the carnage from Iraq as sectarian violence in Baghdad and other areas of the country spiraled out of control.

    On Jan. 10, 2007, a solemn President Bush addressed the nation and announced his plan to restore order. He called for an additional five U.S. combat brigades to be deployed to Baghdad to end the violence and reestablish security.

    More than 50,000 troops would eventually take part in the "Surge." The first of these units to answer the call was the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

    Over the course of 15 grueling months, as they served out the longest combat tours since WWII, paratroopers from the "Falcon" Brigade helped bring about a stunning turnaround in Baghdad and Iraq's security situation. By the end of 2007, thanks to the paratroopers' grit and determination, levels of violence dropped a dramatic 90 percent throughout their area of operation and al-Qaida in Iraq was on the run everywhere in the country.

    For most of the Falcons, it was an odyssey that began on, Dec. 27, 2006, the day the brigade received orders for an immediate deployment to Kuwait. While most Americans continued to enjoy their Christmas break, the Falcons suddenly had to scramble to move 3,000 paratroopers, 300 containers of equipment and 100 vehicles halfway around the world. Amazingly, the movement was complete in less than a week.

    "I don't know of anyone else (but the 82nd Airborne) who can do that," said Maj. Michael Baumeister, the brigade's logistics officer.

    Deploying on such short notice is what the 82nd Airborne Division prides itself in, but for one unit from the brigade, it was a unique challenge. The paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, or Red Falcons, had recently redeployed from a five month tactical mission that had them fighting all across Iraq, chasing elements of al-Qaida. The battalion had only been at home for ten days when it received orders sending them back to the Middle East.

    Sgt. Brian Mundey, of Co. B, 1st Bn., 325th AIR, said it was tough saying goodbye to loved ones again after such a short time, but the mission was critical to the nation.

    "It's our job. It's what we do," Mundey said. When the Red Falcons moved back to Kuwait, they handed the Iraq-wide mission to another battalion in the 2nd Brigade, Task Force 1-73 CAV, which continued the Iraq-wide effort until its redeployment in February.

    In Kuwait, the Falcons didn't have to wait long for the order to move into Iraq. As the president was announcing the surge, 2nd BCT paratroopers were already preparing their move to Multi-National Division – Baghdad's Camp Taji, just outside the Iraqi capital, to spearhead the surge of forces into Baghdad. Their mission was to implement the new vision of counterinsurgency warfare: they were going to live with the Iraqi people in order to protect them and maintain constant presence in the streets. All of this was intended to ensure security while building up the local security forces and government institutions, as well as generate economic development.

    The Falcons' area of operations is in northeast Baghdad. It was a diverse section containing the most die-hard elements at both ends of the insurgent spectrum: foreign-influenced terrorists, criminals and al-Qaida in Iraq.

    More than 3.5 million Iraqis lived in those neighborhoods, and few had interacted with American Soldiers for several years. That was about to change. One of the centerpieces of the surge strategy was to establish combat outposts, or COPs, which are small bases located in the heart of the city. The Falcons established two of the first such expeditionary sites: COP War Eagle, built by the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, and COP Callahan, built by the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

    Though living conditions at the COPs could be primitive, the new bases gave the paratroopers an advantage over their enemies.

    "Living in these neighborhoods meant we could maintain a constant presence. We're not going home at night. We're here 24/7," said Capt. William Canda, of Boulder, Colo., a company commander with Company B, 2nd Bn., 325th AIR.

    After moving into sector, the paratroopers' first task was to clear out the hardcore terrorist cells responsible for attacks on the local citizens and Iraqi security and coalition forces.

    The first few months of the deployment were a blur of constant foot patrols and hard-hitting raids.

    "In the beginning, the most important thing was to make the people feel secure," said Staff Sgt. Antonio Alvarado, a squad leader with Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.

    By the end of Summer 2007, the White Falcons had captured the equivalent of a battalion of criminals and terrorists; al-Qaida forces were literally chased out of the area, and residents began to feel safe again.

    The improved security situation left the Falcons with an even more difficult challenge: rebuilding the area's shattered political and economic infrastructure. It meant staff officers were suddenly swamped with purchase requests and work contracts instead of operation orders, and 19-year-old infantrymen had to learn how to be diplomats.

    "When I leave Iraq, I'll have been a salesman, a cop, a politician and a school principal," said 1st Lt. Andrew Smith in, April 2007, during his stint as a platoon leader with Company C, 2-325 AIR.

    Staff Sgt. Robert Brogdon, of Erie, Penn., a squad leader with Company B, 2-325 AIR, said the new emphasis on non-combat operations forced the paratroopers, most of whom are proud of being experts at lethal warfare, out of their comfort zone. But Brogdon said they rose to the challenge.

    "We didn't do just the things we're good at or the things we liked to do, we did it all," he said. "We're professionals. Whatever they tell us to do, we're going to do it, and we're going to do it well."

    In the end, the Falcons spent more than $30 million on reconstruction projects. They removed rubble from the war torn neighborhoods, renovated almost 50 schools, brought in generators to keep the electricity running, repaired water pumps, gave out micro-loans to business groups and revitalized the area's markets.

    Assisting in these non-traditional war fighting functions was a team of diverse professional pulled together from all corners of the United States. The Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team was a critical element that brought professional advice and a robust group of governance and business professional to assist the brigade's leadership.

    The head of the ePRT, Paul Folmsbee was a career Department of State diplomat who quickly developed strong relationships with the BCT. Throughout the deployment, his advice and counsel to the "war fighters" was vital to changing the course of the insurgency and guaranteeing the successes with the population and local leaders.

    It was all part of a counter-insurgency strategy that had been carefully mapped out at the highest levels of command. But for the Soldiers out pounding the pavement, it all boiled down to something simpler, said Spc. Herrick Lidstone, of Littleton, Colo., a radio operator with Company B, 2-325 AIR.

    "For us, we don't look at it in terms of the big picture," Lidstone said. "For us, it's just going out every day and making the streets as safe as we can make them."

    In time, the streets did become safe. Between December 2006 and December 2007, violent attacks significantly dropped.

    When President Bush addressed the nation on the one year anniversary of the start of the surge, he said the strategy had exceeded all expectations.

    "The American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago," Bush said.

    The achievement was due to the hard work of thousands of American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians, as well as the Iraqis themselves. But the Falcons played a crucial part. For paratroopers like Spc. David Higuera, a medic with Company B, 2nd Bn. 325th AIR, the Falcon Brigade's role in the surge's overwhelming success was a point of pride.

    "I know for a fact that when I look back on all this, I'll be proud of what we did," Higuera said.



    Date Taken: 03.13.2008
    Date Posted: 03.13.2008 11:32
    Story ID: 17329
    Location: BAGHDAD, IQ 

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