The people of Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah Ad Din and Sulamaniyah will not soon forget.
The Iraqis living in the cities and villages of those north—central provinces will long remember the contributions to their security and stability, to their daily lives, made by the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division.
Those Soldiers, in the honored tradition of their Big Red One forebears who fought at St. Mihiel and Meuse—Argonne, in Sicily and on Normandy beaches and in Vietnam, have added a new chapter of courage, perseverance and devotion to duty to the division's history as they prepare to leave Iraq.
Based in Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad, the 1st ID, commanded by Major General John Batiste, began operations in February 2004. Its Soldiers were deployed to 28 Forward Operating Bases throughout the four provinces. Their missions ranged from combat in Samarra to rid that city of its terrorist infestation and helping to liberate Fallujah, to improving border security along the Iran—Iraq border, refurbishing schools and rebuilding hospitals. Water and electricity projects completed by engineer and other units improved the Iraqis quality of life.
The division's accomplishments are too numerous to enumerate here. A brief list would include the following: primary school in Albu Shukur underway; water plant opening in Owja (Saddam's birthplace); 1st ID's 2nd Brigade Economic Development team funds Iraqi bank renovation; 415th Civil Affairs battalion donates medical equipment and books; Iraqi girl from Mandali with life—threatening birth defect flown to Columbus, OH Children's Hospital for successful surgery; town of Bayji begins publication of its first newspaper; media centers opened in Tikrit and other cities; first—ever elections held in Owja and Wynot.
Its Soldiers have discovered and destroyed huge amounts of weapons and
explosives. They have located and discovered numerous Improvised Explosive Devices before terrorists were able to detonate them.
These accomplishments of the Big Red One, along many others, have generated what the division refers to as 'irreversible momentum,' driving the country towards its first democratic elections.
They have also built up a mutual trust and respect which has resulted in more and more Iraqis volunteering information about known or suspected terrorists.
Among the 1st ID's outstanding achievements, perhaps none is more important than the training, equipping and readying of Iraqi National Guard units to assume responsibility for their country's security. Despite being targeted by terrorists, volunteers for ING units continue to step forward.
Soldiers from Task Force 1—18th Infantry, Task Force 1—26th Infantry, Task Force Sabre (1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry) and Task Force 1—77th Armor, for instance, have worked with and fought alongside Iraqi National Guard counterparts, and those units are now ready and willing to take on local security duties as the country girds itself for the upcoming elections. Over 40 battalions are now in place. In Tikrit recently, the headquarters for the ING's 30th Brigade was opened. Throughout the four provinces meetings are being held to coordinate election security plans. Execution of those plans will be facilitated by Joint Coordination Centers established by 1st ID and Iraqi authorities to effectively employ ING, police and other security forces. On election day, there will be 23,000 of them in the provinces ensuring a secure environment for Iraqis coming out to vote.
In his classic Here Is Your War, Ernie Pyle wrote about being with American GIs who came ashore in the first wave at Oran, Algeria. They had only canned field rations and gave most of that food away to 'pitiful looking Arab children' so that 'pretty soon the soldiers...lived on oranges.' That spirit of GI generosity has always existed. It is no different with 1st ID Soldiers and Iraqi children. The Soldiers have families back home. They don't need interpreters to understand the situation. Whether supplying schoolbooks or disbursing soccer balls and candy or delivering medical equipment to the pediatric ward of an Iraqi hospital, 1st ID Soldiers carry on that humanitarian tradition.
Some 1st ID units have already left Iraq. Most members of the North Carolina National Guard 30th 'Old Hickory' Brigade are back home. They have been replaced by the Tennessee National Guard's 278th Regimental Combat Team, Colonel Dennis J. Adams commanding, which has already hosted a Regional Security Working Group. Subsequently, troops from the 278th's 1st Squadron, working with an ING unit, discovered six large weapons caches.
The Big Red One's relief will mark an historic occasion. For the first time, a National Guard division, the New York—based 42nd ID will serve in Iraq. Among the famous 'Rainbow Division's' constituent units are the already—mentioned 278th RCT and the Idaho National Guard 116th Brigade Combat Team, now deploying to Kirkuk. Its commander and the officer he's replacing have already held a press conference with Kirkuk province's governor, answering questions about upcoming elections and recent successful operations by Iraqi and coalition forces. Important to note here is that 14 local print, radio and TV outlets were represented at the press conference. Yes, Iraqis do have an active, involved, representative media.
Person to person, Soldier to citizen, company to village, battalion to city and division to provinces, the 1st Infantry Division has increased and solidified the security and stability of Iraq. Its Soldiers have fought and been wounded and have died to accomplish their vital missions. The Big Red One will leave the country with an outstanding record of achievement and accomplishment. Its legacy: the irreversible momentum towards elections and Iraq's democratic future under the rule of law.
John B. Dwyer is a military historian.