Iron Knights begin new mission in New Baghdad, support new BCT
By Staff Sgt. Brent Williams
1st BCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div., MND-B
FORWARD OPERATING BASE Falcon, Iraq - The Soldiers of the "Iron Knights" Battalion arrived in Baghdad al-Jidida (New Baghdad) in early March, eager to start a new mission - fit to fight, and fight they did.
The 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, attached to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in support of Multi-National Division - Baghdad, began its mission - to transition control to Iraqi Security Forces by providing security and stability for Baghdad al-Jidida - while under fire from enemy forces, said Lt. Col. Scott McKean, commander, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt.
"Iron Knights Soldiers responded with aggressive and disciplined actions that answered the so-called testing of new units," McKean said. "Most important, the Soldiers have adapted to the environment, some seeing more engagements in their first 30 days than some Soldiers see during their entire tour."
Taking the lead of Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., the noncommissioned officers are using their leadership and experience to accomplish the mission while company commanders and their platoon leaders learn their surroundings, all the while working alongside Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police and Iraqi National Police in a very busy and hostile environment, he said.
"The Soldiers have demonstrated character and courage under fire and in taking the fight to the enemy," said McKean, a graduate of West Point, Class of 1990.
Even though the battalion joined the 10th Mtn. Div.'s newest brigade combat team, the 4th BCT, out of Fort Polk, La., during a volatile and violent uprising in eastern Baghdad, the Iron Knights Soldiers immediately established a successful relationship with the ISF, who are leading many operations in the predominately Shia and Christian-mixed community that is home to an estimated 1.3 million Iraqis, explained McKean.
"During the Shia uprising in March 2008, there were large numbers of desertion and collusion with the militia; but within days, the ISF policed up their ranks, arrested those who were complicit with militia or that did not perform their duties, and re-established security within their respective areas of operations," said McKean, who describes the ISF as a resilient force.
The ISF are conducting routine missions, such as clearing operations, with the Iron Knights providing physical support with outer cordons and tactical support coaching Iraqi company and battalion commanders in the decision-making process, said Capt. Roman Izzo, commander, Company C, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., MND-B.
"The IA soldiers working in Baghdad al-Jidida are miles beyond any Iraqi unit we have seen out here in all my time deployed," said Izzo, who is currently on his third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"But there has been plenty of turmoil - not the level of hand-off we would have like; and especially when the enemy gets his vote, and we get the uprising in March," said Izzo, a Houston-native.
The 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., is a combined-arms battalion comprised of seven companies, including armor, infantry and combat-support Soldiers, headquartered at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah and operating out of combat outposts and joint security stations in eastern Baghdad, said Izzo, a graduate of West Point, Class of 2000.
Most of the battalion's Soldiers stay at the COPs instead of on the FOB, said Izzo, and conducting daily operations from within the district allows the "Crazy Horse" Solders of Co. C to build relationships and safeguard the Iraqi people.
The IPs, INPs and MND-B Soldiers are centralized at the JSS, working from a common operating picture, updating checkpoints and patrolling to secure 18 of the 36 muhallas, or neighborhoods, in Baghdad al-Jidida, said Izzo.
In addition to conducting daily dismounted patrols with ISF in the neighborhoods and making face-time with the Iraqi people, the Soldiers also provide COP security, where they live and work for at least six days straight before returning to the FOB for a day to refit, said Izzo.
"If I can send a platoon in overnight to the rear where they can take 16 consecutive hours off - 16 consecutive hours with me not bugging them for anything - and they can get two hot KBR meals and a hot shower and just chill in their room and then come back out; that gets a Soldier's mind back in the game," said Izzo.
Despite the long hours, the Soldiers, who walk the streets day and night, love their work, especially the patrols, but not so much the COP security, said Izzo.
"If their feet feel like mine, then I need to back off a little bit but right now we're managing; and honestly, the wear and tear on the vehicles is worse then the wear and tear on the guys," he explained.
Pfc. Sean Keeler, a native of Saint Paul, Minn., and an armor crewmember assigned to Co. C, said that sometimes time at the COPs goes by so slow it seems to move backwards.
"Usually though, time just seems to fly by. Working the radios during the day, 12-hour shifts, and then 12 hours doing whatever: sleeping, guard duty, maintenance and whatever details we have to do," Keeler said.
Keeler, a member of the company's tank platoon, added that his job is very important to the company's day-to-day accomplishment of its mission as he monitors all radio traffic from his station in the command post, tracks significant activities in the area and relays mission critical information to his commander.
Security in Crazy Horse's area of responsibility that is home to an estimated 200,000 Iraqis is good, according to Staff Sgt. Christopher Jordan, an infantry squad leader assigned to Co. C, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., who said that most of the attacks in the area are between special interests groups competing for power on the other side of the district.
"So far they're not fighting with us, but they're not fighting against us either," said Jordan, who hails from Columbus, Ohio, and is responsible for the health and welfare of eight Soldiers as he leads his teams on daily operations in Baghdad al-Jidida.
Jordan, who is beginning his third deployment with the 4th Inf. Div. since 2003, said that his platoon routinely visits Iraqi Army checkpoints to better assist the Iraqi soldiers, bringing them amenities, such as water, cots and discussing issues and working to facilitate ISF operations.
"My initial impression of the Iraqi Army: they're hard workers," he said. "They are just like anybody else, but I can't really judge them because I have to look at what if the shoe was on the other foot."
When he is not pulling duties as sergeant of the guard, monitoring the video cameras posted around the perimeter of the COP or overseeing maintenance issues for the vehicles and equipment, Jordan said that he is patrolling the streets, learning the maze-like terrain of the neighborhoods and interacting with the Iraqi people.
"If they're happy, I mean, that makes for a great day," he said. "Security is good, and the ISF seem to have a handle on it - so far so good, but it could be the calm before the storm."
Jordan said that he looks forward to the time when the ISF and the Government of Iraq are self-sufficient and controlling security by their own means; but until then, his Soldiers have a job to do.
The 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt. is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and currently deployed for a 15-month rotation in support of MND-B and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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