News: ‘Golden Dragons’ return COL Gaines Mills to Iraqi Security Forces
Story by Spc. Andrew Ingram
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE WARRIOR, Iraq – U.S. forces from 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division, officially returned Contingency Operating Location Gaines Mills to the government of Iraq during a transfer ceremony in Kirkuk province, Iraq, June 1.
Lt. Col. Andrew Ulrich, commander, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, “Golden Dragons,” 1st AATF, officially signed over stewardship of the compound to Col. Kalaid, executive officer, 47th Brigade, 12th Iraqi Army Division.
Kalaid thanked soldiers of 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, and all the other units who served at COL Gaines Mills during recent years for their support and friendship.
“We remember today the circumstances our soldiers went through together,” said Kalaid. “During counterterrorism operations and training, you stood by us. Also by providing logistical support and intelligence, the American soldiers have assisted us greatly and shown that they are true friends.”
The return of COL Gaines Mills, known as Tal Awar to Iraqi forces, served as a symbol of the Iraqi security forces’ readiness to train and conduct operations independently, Ulrich said during the transfer ceremony.
“We are very sad today to leave Tal Awar,” Ulrich told gathered 47th Brigade soldiers. “It has been our home away from home for the past year now, but we hope you enjoy it for many years to come.”
Although U.S. forces left COL Gaines Mills, Ulrich said soldiers will continue to train and work with Iraqi units for the duration of Operation New Dawn.
“Every day we spend working together makes us better,” Ulrich said. “Whether it’s training or fighting insurgents, we learn from each other. I hope for a continued, long lasting relationship between the people and the army of Iraq, and the people and Army of the United States.”
Kalaid said he looks forward to a continued partnership with U.S. forces based on respect and dedication to the safety of the Iraqi people.
“We will stay loyal to the people and give our hearts and bodies to making a strong Iraq,” he said.
Originally established as a forward operating base designed to support a battalion-size element in 2004, U.S. forces gradually began turning over sections of COL Gaines Mills to the government of Iraq in the years that followed, and trained Iraqi units who moved in.
As the last U.S. unit assigned to COL Gaines Mills, Golden Dragon soldiers worked closely with Iraqi troops occupying the rest of the base, first by assisting them during partnered security operations near Kirkuk.
As U.S. forces transitioned to an advise, train and assist role during Operation New Dawn, soldiers shifted their focus to the professional development of their Iraqi counterparts, said 1st Sgt. Craig Buck, senior enlisted leader of Company C, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.
“[Iraqis] are already handling most operations on their own,” Buck explained. “I give all the credit for the success of our mission to my soldiers, sespecially my platoon sergeants, who were out there training the Iraqis every day.”
COL Gaines Mills derived its name from the 1862 American Civil War battle of Gaines Mills. That battle provided Golden Dragon soldiers of Company C an interesting historical context to work with during their year-long residence at COL Gaines Mills, said Buck. The battle, part of the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, resulted in the 14 Infantry Regiment being recognized for its first Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. George C. Williams.
Williams became an inspiration for his fellow soldiers, and later to the Golden Dragons at COL Gaines Mills who trained Iraqi soldiers assigned to 47th Brigade, said Buck.
Buck said by returning the base to the 47th Brigade, U.S. forces could motivate the Iraqi soldiers to heroic actions of their own.
“Turning this place over is a boost of confidence to the Iraqi soldiers,” he said. “It signifies a change—not only a change in the property books—but the confidence that the Iraqi populace has in their army.”