CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq – With Christmas and New Years happily in their rear view mirror, home is now finally in sight for many Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division.
The light at the end of the tunnel squarely in their sights, some of them took a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of their tour and the road ahead for Iraq.
“It’s important now that we’ve reached this New Year and a new beginning full of promise – a fresh start that we start it off right,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss., who is the commanding general of Multi-National Division – Baghdad and the 4th Inf. Div. “That’s our theme today: ‘New Beginnings.'”
Hammond opened the town hall meeting by talking about the road they have traveled and the challenges still remaining until they are replaced by the 1st Cavalry Division in February. The town hall meeting was broadcast via video teleconference and webcast with the Fort Hood and Fort Carson communities.
“To be quite honest and frank with you, and I think I speak for all of our Soldiers here, (by saying) that we certainly look forward to the 1st Cavalry Division coming in here to pick this up from us, continuing with this mission and making it a success,” Hammond said.
After a few more remarks, he turned the time over to the meeting’s two guest hosts, who continued the “new beginnings” theme and did some reflecting of their own about the accomplishments of their Soldiers and how they’ve improved the status of Iraq.
“It’s been a tremendous advancement for both the U.S. and the Iraqi people,” said Lt. Col. Bob Hatcher, a native of Montgomery, Ala., who is the commander of the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div. “We’ve been taking part in security and safety for the Iraqi citizens and preparing them for the next set of elections.”
Hatcher elaborated on how his troops helped improve the area’s security.
“My soldiers were personally involved in delivering the concrete barriers that have been attributed to much of the security of roads and neighborhoods in the Sadr City area,” Hatcher said. “I’m extremely proud of our warrior logisticians and their classic example of combat adaptability.”
Hatcher’s fellow emcee chimed in, speaking about the deeds of his Soldiers.
“I’m very proud of the work the ‘Gambler Guns’ have completed thus far, over-coming crew shortages and a myriad of other challenges,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Vizzarri, a native of Philadelphia, who is the commander of the 4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade. “We’ve flown over 10,000 hours, or three years worth of Fort Hood, Texas, flight time in only 6 months.”
Hatcher and Vizzarri then introduced the first of the night’s guest speakers, who talked about the various aspects of his relatively short and whirl-wind military career as well as his young family in the making.
“I collect reports from different intelligence collection teams on the ground in Baghdad,” said Spc. Scott Snow, a native of Garland, Texas, who serves as an intelligence analyst with the Ironhorse Division’s Analysis Control Element. “I also compile interrogation reports from detainees within our different detainee holding facilities.”
Snow has served in the Army for 17 months and has spent the bulk of that time away from his wife, who is expecting a child shortly after he returns. Following Snow, an assortment of individuals spoke about the upcoming elections and how each of them contributes to the new and free Iraq.
“The provincial elections will take place on January 31st and are for the Provincial Councils, which are the Iraqi version of state legislators,” said Katie Bresnahan, a Department of State civilian employee currently assigned to the Governance Section of the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team. “While Iraq has had several elections since 2003, the upcoming provincial elections will mark a new beginning for local Iraqi Government,” the Chicago native added.
Bresnahan also stated that the upcoming elections will be more inclusive then previous elections and will be open to Iraqis from all walks of life, to include former insurgents and religious minorities. Moreover, 25 percent of the council seats must now be held by women, she added.
While some challenges and threats still stand in the way of these elections and moreover the government being a success, Bresnahan added that the Iraqi Government along with the PRT and Coalition Forces are working diligently “to ensure the logistics of the elections run smoothly.”
“Working in Iraq has been an incredibly positive experience for me,” Bresnahan said. “It has been a unique opportunity as a civilian to learn from my U.S. military colleagues as well as to work along side my Iraqi colleagues who risk their lives everyday to make their country a better place.”
After Bresnahan, one of the regions’ elected officials offered his thanks and the gratitude of his countrymen, via a translator, about the sacrifices it has taken to get Iraq where it is now.
“I would like to give my thanks to Maj. Gen. Hammond for giving me this chance to speak to the people of the United States and to express my feelings about freedom and democracy and what they (Americans) have helped produce over here,” said Yacoub Yousef, a native of Aamel, Baghdad, currently serving as the Council Chairman for the Rashid District Council. “(Thank you) for democracy, through the blood of your Soldiers and your people and for all of the sacrifices you have given the Iraqi people to improve the democracy (here) as a strong ground.”
“Because of the sacrifices the United States has given and its military, the result of this sacrifice is the democratic Iraq we’re now seeing,” Yousef said. “This (nation) is more advanced than it was during the dictator (Saddam Hussein) or during the previous regime and now we have elections; people can elect for themselves.”
Next up, another Soldier spoke about how the military offered her a fresh start in life and how, despite the non-stop pace of her career thus far, she is honored to contribute to rebuilding Iraq and serving her country.
“The Army has been a new beginning for me,” said Pfc. Lyndsey Dransfield, a native of Draper, Utah, who serves as the layout editor for the 4th Inf. Div.’s “The Daily Roar.” Dransfield is a public affairs specialist assigned to the 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of the Utah Army National Guard. “I left for Basic Training at the end of September 2007. Two weeks before I left, I was told by my recruiter that my unit would be deployed to Iraq by the end of March: two weeks after I would graduate from my military training.”
Dransfield said since arriving in Iraq, she’s had the opportunity to meet all kinds of people, learn about a different culture and see the progress all involved are making here.
“Not only have I had the chance to learn it, but I’ve also had the chance to document it in the stories I’ve written.”
While Dransfield and the others who spoke before her have been helping change and write about the new Iraq’s identity the meeting reached its concluding segment with two pairs of Soldiers whose own ‘identity’ is sometimes hard to distinguish.
Privates Moner Kamel Abed and Karim Kamel Abed, identical twin brothers from Hila City, Iraq, currently serving as Security Personnel with Company 5, 2nd Battalion, 44th Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Division, spoke through a translator about why they decided to join the ranks. Both have served in the Iraqi Army for approximately eight months and said when they saw the sacrifices the American Troops and civilians were making for Iraq, it made them decide to serve in the IA and sacrifice for their country.
Following the Amed brothers were the other set of twins, a pair of Army captains who hail from Sacramento, Calif. It is unique in that one sister will replace the other, in the same job, as the 1st Cav. Div. transitions with the 4th Inf. Div.
“This experience is new for us because we are actually doing the transfer of authority together,” Said Capt. Brenda Trevillion, 4th Inf. Div.’s protocol officer. “She’s (twin sister Belinda) actually taking over for me here, and I will be doing her job (at Fort Hood).”
Capt. Belinda Trevillion holds the same role for the 1st Team that her sister Brenda holds for the 4th Inf. Div. Although the two of them had taken turns deploying to theater over the past three years, the time apart has not weakened the bond they share.
“We have a unique bond that most people will probably never understand,” Belinda said. “We always know what each other’s thinking and feeling and when the other is upset. We have arguments like other siblings do, but we are extremely close.”
Following the guest speakers there was a brief question and answer period between the folks back home and those attending in Baghdad.
Questions were wide ranging, touching on matters such as when Families of Soldiers in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div.’s will know if their Soldiers’ deployment is reduced from 15 months to the effect the situation in Gaza may or may not have on the troops here in Iraq.
Drawing the meeting to a close Hammond offered a few closing remarks about the quality of his ‘Steadfast and Loyal’ Soldiers.
“People here have performed above what they normally would have performed – because they care,” Hammond said. “But, we want to get home. We want to embrace the local community; we want to love them; we want to probably cry a little bit, and we can’t wait for that.”
He concluded by offering his respect and gratitude for all of the people waiting to return those embraces and share those joyous tears.
“We owe our Families; we owe the Fort Carson and Central Texas communities; we owe them everything,” Hammond said. “You are our heart; you are our soul; you love us without expecting anything in return, and we are very thankful.”
Keeping these mutual thanks and thoughts of new beginnings in mind, the Ironhorse Division has more than earned the right to start anew back home.
By Spc. Douglas York