(Nov. 12, 2015) -- Service members with the Iraqi Security Forces were glad to
see the U.S. Army back in Iraq, said Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division,
who recently returned from an advise, train and assist mission there.
About 1,300 Soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division,
left the United States for Iraq in January of this year, and redeployed in
October, following the short-notice nine-month deployment there in support of
Operation Inherent Resolve.
The Soldiers, part of Task Force Panther, provided advise and assist teams,
trained Iraqi Security Forces, secured multiple critical facilities, and
provided logistical support to further Iraq's efforts to degrade and defeat the
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. There will be other American teams
that go in to perform the same advise and assist mission - including the 1st
Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division who is there now - but the 3/82 was
"I know the Iraqis were extremely grateful to see the U.S. troopers come
back, in a new role and a new capacity," said Lt. Col. Bryan Babich,
commander of 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, Fort
Bragg, North Carolina.
Babich had been in Iraq before. He served there from 2005 to 2006 as a battery
"It was a very different mission in a very different time," he said.
"I was in charge of a convoy security company and we'd move logistical
convoys from one forward operating base to another. It was very tactical and
This time in Iraq, he said, he was tasked to the advise and assist team
assigned to the Ministry of Peshmerga in Erbil, where he worked with Kurds, and
also with coalition partners regarding how they trained and resourced the
Peshmerga, ensuring, for instance, that as training occurred, a common standard
"That's critical, because if you don't have that common standard, then
it's hard for the unit you are training to work in a collective way,"
A big part of this deployment for the 3/82 was being the first on the ground to
do the kind of work they were tasked with doing. They weren't replacing a team
"A big part was understanding how they were organized, what their
priorities were, and then finding areas where we felt we could best help,"
Babich said of working with the Peshmerga. "We found those focuses, but it
took time. And a lot of what goes on with the first units to go in and
establish a mission is to just create that identity, and find the areas to make
a difference, and set the conditions for the follow-on team that replaced us in
While in Iraq, he said, the 3/82 wasn't doing the mission it had done during
Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn - even though it was able to rekindle
relationships built earlier.
"These were small advise and assist teams - but it resonates that this is
a commitment. And that we are part of that commitment, and we are there to
help," he said. "There are relationships we built in the first eight
years we were there, that we were able to capitalize on in this most recent
tour. We knew them before and we were able to rebuild and continue on in those
One such relationship was with Peshmerga Brig Gen. Hazhar Ismail, who Babich
worked alongside at the Ministry of Peshmerga in Erbil. Babich said he saw in
the general hope for the future in Iraq.
"He's a younger general officer within the Peshmerga, a graduate of the
U.S. Army War College and very well spoken," Babich said. "It was a
critical relationship for us because we could talk with a common language and
what it did for me is it really resonated in the value that is bringing in
foreigners into our schools and establishing relationships there, and then on
how you can capitalize on that in a deployed environment. The training and the
plans that we developed together were about creating something that would last,
and creating something that would serve as a capable force that could ... be
there for the long haul. I saw in Gen. Hazhar a hope and optimism, professionalism
as a military officer, and quite possibly a glimpse ... of a better
In Iraq, Capt. Bryan Terry served as commander of Bravo Company, 255th
Parachute Infantry Regiment. Initially, Terry said, Bravo Company was going to
provide security forces at Erbil. But that mission was cancelled, so the unit
spent about eight weeks in Kuwait before moving into Iraq.
Once in country, they moved to Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, to train brigades
that were tasked with doing counter attack missions.
"The Iraqi units show up to us having a basic understanding of how to do
soldier tasks, with a little bit of an understanding of how to do fire maneuver
at a small-unit level," Terry said. "We put them through a six-week
and three-week program of instruction. Six-week instruction is really just a
lot of basic buddy team movements, teaching them marksmanship, making sure they
understand how to actually fire and maneuver as a small team, and then move all
the way up to squad live-fires. After that they go into a three-week, short
period of instruction, and that is more collective tasks, moving up closer to a
platoon to a company live-fire, with them fighting as a larger element."
In Iraq for seven months, Bravo Company rotated duties with other companies. They
also did work in building partner capacity and in providing security forces.
Terry said that the Iraqis were easily able to pick up what B Company taught
"They were excited to see us show up and train them," Terry said.
"We were definitely their first choice to have somebody come in and help
them. They have a lot of trust in us from our past relationships."
Terry said his team began every day of training by demonstrating how his
Soldiers did a particular task - they did a demonstration.
"After that we'd then put them through the lanes with collective tasks to
execute a little bit of training for that day," he said.
Terry said he saw in the Iraqis he trained a definite will to do the mission.
There weren't any slackers, he said.
"Typically we think, based on their recent defeats over the last year,
that they don't really have a large will to fight," Terry said. "But
they do have a will to fight. They are very prideful of their country - that is
part of the reason they are fighting as Iraqi armed forces. They don't have to
be there ... they are there mainly because of their sense of pride in their
One example of that, he said, is when the Iraqi brigade commander he was
partnered with would rotate through training locations to meet with the
"The younger soldiers would get frustrated they weren't in the fight and
they had to continue to train ... he'd go out there and talk to his men and
motivate them," Terry said. "During one motivational speech, he
pulled an Iraqi flag out of his pocket that he always carried with him - they
immediately got excited. He talked about how soon, when the training was
complete, they would go fight the enemy forces for the government of Iraq. And
there was celebration following that."
Time and Space
During the 3/82's nine months in Iraq, Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, commander of
the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, said he personally advised the Baghdad
Operations Command commander.
"It gave me some pretty unique access and insight into the highest levels
of Iraqi national political and military decision-making," he said.
"I was able to provide reflections there and back to the coalition
Sullivan said entering Iraq for the first time since 2011, it was a challenge
to get the mission started - to get a foothold into what was expected of them
and to what they needed to accomplish.
"There was a lot we didn't know going into this mission," he said.
"We had to define our own expectations and have them confirmed or denied
once we got on site. One of the concerns we had was how our Iraqi partners were
going to perceive us, having left at the end of Operation New Dawn, and what
themes are they carrying, good or bad, that will inform our initial
relationship. I was pleased to learn, and experience, that we were welcomed
back with open arms."
Sullivan said that as their mission solidified in Iraq, he saw that the Iraqis
developed greater willingness to train with the Americans. He said he thinks
what the 3/82 has done, and what follow-on units will do in the same mission,
will help provide the Iraqis the space they need to defeat ISIS.
"What we did creates time and space for Iraqis to achieve solutions to
what is fundamentally a political problem in the theater and provided time and
space for our own policy makers to define what our level of engagement and what
our overarching goals are going to be, with regional partners, with coalition
partners and with Iraqis," he said.