DIYALA, Iraq – The red and blue flag hung in all its glory, decorated with countless streamers for battles fought and unit citations. The flag lowered, and the two Soldiers reach for the flag. Two sets of hands roll the flag up, securing the streamers tightly against the flagpole. A cloth sheath slides over the bundle, and the flag is raised back to its upright position. A second flag is lowered and the sheath is removed, and as the arid Iraqi air greets the new flag, a second pair of Soldiers salutes the flag and returns to their seats.
The outgoing unit has just transferred authority of the region to the incoming unit.
“We feel very satisfied in many of the things we’ve been able to do this year,” said Col. David E. Funk, the brigade commander for 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, delving into the working relationships he and his command group fostered with their Iraqi counterparts, the progressive economic development in the province and the training he and his Soldiers provided the Iraqi Security Forces.
Soldiers from 3rd SBCT, 2nd ID, “Arrowhead,” began arriving in theater August 2009 during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, relieving 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Regiment of their command of the Diyala province. Maj. Jonathan Burnett, the officer in charge of Intelligence Operations for #rd SBCT, 2nd ID, said initial information gathered on the region showed possible government corruption as well as increasing unrest of local extremist groups.
In addition to these issues, the removal of U.S. armed forces from all cities, towns and villages complicated the integration process, hindering 3rd SBCT, 2nd ID, leaders from meeting with their Iraqi counterparts and laying the foundation for a successful deployment.
“Due to the removal of forces from cities and villages, our first mission was to redevelop relationships with Iraqi Security Forces by partnering with the Provincial Joint Coordination Cell and the 5th Iraqi Army Division in order to ensure success in joint operations and a prosperous future for the region,” Maj. Burnett said.
The Arrowhead brigade experienced indirect and small-arms fire on numerous occasions throughout their deployment as sectarian tensions mounted between zealous Shia and Sunni extremist groups, which led 3rd SBCT, 2nd ID to increase security precautions during joint patrols with Iraqi forces.
“One of the most important times for us was during the national elections,” Maj. Burnett said. “We worked alongside our Iraqi counterparts in beefing up ground security in addition to providing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle support.”
Major Burnett said the Warrior brigade can expect to deal with increased tensions coming out of the elections, and with the forming of the new Iraqi government. He also said it will be a delicate situation, but with heightened security and unrelenting situational awareness, 2nd SBCT, 25th ID should see the mission accomplished by the end of the deployment.
“My recommendation for the incoming brigade is to be flexible, be adaptive, be agile, and if whatever you’re doing isn’t working, change it,” Col. Funk said. “Don’t be afraid to try new and different things, and don’t be afraid to adjust on the fly if you need to in order to make new things happen.”
Colonel Malcolm B. Frost, the brigade commander for 2nd SBCT, 25th ID, acknowledged the challenges that the brigade anticipates during the upcoming year, but is optimistic overall about his Warriors’ ability to rise to and overcome these challenges.
“As you know, we are a Stryker brigade combat team,” Col. Frost began. “But we are an advise and assist brigade and we have trained toward that mindset so we can assist, advise, train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces and then support our Provincial Reconstruction Team, our State Department, the USA, United Nations and other non-governmental organizations as they take the lead in providing the stability for the government of Iraq through elements such as governance, economics, infrastructure, essential services, health and education.”
“As Stryker brigades, we are a unique community,” Maj. Burnett concluded. “And I couldn’t think of a better unit to be relieving us.”