Heavily Deployed Brigade’s Leaders Reflect on Most Recent Tour
By Army Spc. Ben Hutto
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq, April 28, 2008 After months of intensive training at Fort Benning, Ga., and a rotation to the National Training Center, in Fort Irwin, Calif., the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team deployed here in March 2007, prepared to accomplish their mission.
Army Capt. Josh Beard, from Opelika, Ala., the civil-military operations officer for 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, greets a worker who helped set up a well and filtration system at a girls school in Narhwan, Iraq. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team established relationships with citizens through community projects and humanitarian aid projects like the girls school. Photo by Army Spc. Ben Hutto, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Their mission in Iraq has been to prevent “accelerants” from coming into Baghdad, said Army Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., the brigade’s commander.
“I’d say we were very successful doing that. In addition, we came to the Madain qada and helped stop the criminals that were harming the good people here,” he said. A qada is an area or region in Iraq.
The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Sledgehammer Brigade, captured 43 high-level enemy leaders and killed more than 160 enemy fighters.
“We have been very effective along all lines of operations,” Grigsby said.
Army Command Sgt. Major James Pearson, from Philadelphia, the unit’s senior noncommissioned officer, also is pleased with the way his troops conducted operations.
“We have been phenomenal for over a year,” he said. “I can look at what is happening in Baghdad and see an improvement. Since our arrival, attack levels have dropped to a very low point. I believe that is proof that we have been accomplishing our mission.”
The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team inherited a battle space that had very little coalition forces presence prior to 2004. Citizens of the Madain qada routinely were intimidated by extremist groups, and the local economy was a shell of its former self. Shops and markets were boarded up and vacant. The local government had been forced underground, and the judges who provided rule of law had fled to Baghdad. Seeing the situation, Grigsby and Pearson said, they were optimistic, but cautious, in their expectations.
“The deployment went like I expected it to,” Pearson said. “We had to fight in the beginning and establish ourselves in the area. We were very much in an expeditionary fight in the beginning. After we established order, we were able to build up all of the other areas.”
Pearson credits the brigade’s training as a key reason that his soldiers have been so successful.
“I have always emphasized the basics when it comes to training,” he said. “Our NCOs worked hard on teaching our soldiers core warrior tasks that they would need. … Our soldiers knew how to fight and survive before they came out here. Once we had our fighting skills down, everything else fell into place. We were prepared to fight. All we needed to do was adjust our [tactics, techniques and procedures] based on what we were experiencing.”
Grigsby said that even though the initial fighting was difficult and progress was slow, the brigade’s persistence and discipline remained constant.
“I cannot explain how proud I am of our soldiers,” he said. “No matter what happened, they showed up every day ready to accomplish the mission. I didn’t hear any complaints or whining a single time this deployment. Much of that goes to our leaders who provided direction and kept our soldiers focused on what they were doing, but you have to give most of the credit to our soldiers and their commitment to serving their country.”
Grigsby said he has seen tangible results of his troops’ performance.
“Security has increased ten-fold from when we first started going outside the wire here at Hammer,” he said. “We were getting attacked an average of three or four times a day when we first arrived. Now we average less than one attack per day.”
After capturing the enemy leaders, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team eliminated those who menaced good citizens. In finding and eliminating weapons caches and roadside bombs, they eliminated another major threat. They detained 600 suspected criminals and helped rebuild the government in the area.
“The mayor and the qada council have returned and are helping the people of the Madain qada,” Grigsby said. “All of these things weren’t here when we arrived. I think it’s a testament to the hard work of our soldiers, the local leaders, our Iraqi security force partners and the people in this area.”
Pearson credits much of the unit’s success to veterans of the brigade. He estimated that more than 60 percent of the brigade's soldiers were serving in their second or third deployment.
“More than anything, our veterans helped instill a sense of confidence in our first-timers,” he said. “As operations started, our younger guys had someone who had seen combat and could ready them for what was about to happen. They were able to show our soldiers what right looked like and prepare them.”
Grigsby said his veterans’ professionalism was as important as their experience.
“Our veterans were smart and professional enough not to fight the same fight twice,” he said. “They realized that this was a different war from [Operation Iraqi Freedom] I and III. They were open-minded and adapted what they knew to help in the current fight.”
Pearson said he believes that his first-time deployers also were instrumental to the brigade’s success.
“When our first-timers rolled out of the gate, they brought a heightened sense of awareness to our patrols,” he said. “To watch them conquer their initial fears and go out and contribute was a lift for all of our leaders. They allowed us to see the battlefield with new eyes, which is always good.”
As the 3rd HBCT’s deployment continued, the brigade worked to help establish “Sons of Iraq” citizen security groups throughout the area to build on security gains. The groups manned checkpoints and provided the 3rd HBCT and Iraqi forces with vital information on what happened inside neighborhoods.
“The establishment of the Sons of Iraq put more pressure on extremists operating in the area,” Grigsby said. Their establishment provided jobs to citizens who might have otherwise emplaced IEDs for money. … It gave the men of this qada the opportunity to help better the places they lived and worked by providing security. As a result, local economies prospered. … I think it was one our greatest successes of this deployment.”
The initiation of the Sons of Iraq citizens security groups, the gains in security, the re-establishment of governance and the strengthening of the local economy are some of the many victories that the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team achieved in helping the Madain qada during the deployment, but they have come with a cost, Grigsby noted.
“We lost 32 great soldiers to accomplish the great things we have done,” he said. “We had 192 wounded to accomplish our mission. They will live with me forever, and I will never forget what they have done for this brigade and our country.
“I feel it is important that none of them is forgotten by this brigade or the people back home,” he continued. “That, to me, is the most important thing. As their commander, I take full responsibility for all of their deaths. I look forward to meeting their parents and spouses and grieving with them. These soldiers were all heroes, and I feel it is important that we never let the greatness of what they did for their country be forgotten.”
Pearson also credits two battalions that were separated from the brigade at the beginning of the deployment. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, both were assigned to different units away from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team area of operations. The 1-10th Field Artillery eventually was reunited with the 3rd HBCT here, but Pearson said is proud of how they conducted operations in other areas of Iraq.
“It is always emotional when you lose units,” he said. “When you train as a team, you want to deploy and fight as a team. When we found out we were losing both 1-10 and 2-69 it was a blow, because we knew what both of them brought to the fight. I knew that both of them would do well apart from us, though. I have heard nothing but good things about their performances while detached from the brigade.”
As the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s deployment draws to an end, both leaders want their troops to return home proud of what they have done.
“Since 2001, soldiers have volunteered to be a part of the global war on terror and to leave their homes and families to serve their country,” Pearson said. “I want all of them to be proud of their accomplishments. I want them to be proud of their service. History calls the World War II soldiers the greatest generation. I believe that when we look back 20 years from now, these soldiers will be looked at as one of the greatest generations as well.
“What we are doing with an all-volunteer Army is amazing,” he continued. “Every one of our soldiers stood up, raised their right hand and answered the call of their country during a time when they were needed. I think it says something about them and the type of people that make up our service.”
“I wake up every day just honored to be able to serve with the great soldiers of the Sledgehammer Brigade,” he said. “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. The soldiers of this brigade have helped create a world that will allow my recently born grandson to grow up safely and enjoy all of the freedoms that we have enjoyed.
“I mean it when I say they have fought to preserve our country and our way of life,” he said. “When my grandson asks me about this war, I will tell him I served in a brigade of heroes, because that is what everyone in this brigade is.”
The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.
(Army Spc. Ben Hutto serves in the 3rd Infantry Division’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)