Wolfowitz, Sanchez Praise 1st AD's Extended Iraq Service
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WIESBADEN ARMY AIRFIELD, Germany, Oct. 7, 2004 The deputy secretary of defense and the former commander of coalition forces based in Iraq praised the 1st Armored Division here today for its service in Iraq, which lasted three months longer than originally planned.
In interviews with American Forces Network after a formal homecoming parade for the division, Paul Wolfowitz and Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said the division and the soldiers' families performed extraordinarily well.
"They just performed magnificently," Wolfowitz said, "and they had the extra demands on them of having that deployment extended three months to keep on fighting."
Wolfowitz called the decision to extend the deployment "agonizing" for all involved. "What it comes down to is the most important thing is to accomplish the mission; it had to be done."
Though it was tough, the extended deployment had a good ending, the deputy secretary said, with legitimate Iraqi authorities now control the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his outlaw no longer in the city.
The wounded soldiers present at the homecoming ceremony, as well as others he has visited, Wolfowitz said, are a constant reminder of the cost of war. But he praised their spirit, saying they are uncomplaining and "as tough as they are in combat." The care he has seen them receive at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, is good, he added, and said the nation owes them nothing less. "We have a debt to these people."
The legacy of the soldiers will live on in the future of Iraq, Wolfowitz said. He noted that Germany was an absolute "mess" after World War II. While he said he doesn't expect Iraq to achieve the same success at the same speed as the new Germany, he called Iraq a country "on the way up."
Sanchez, who commands the Army's 5th Corps and is a former 1st Armored Division commander, said the homecoming ceremony had special significance for him.
"It was important to bring closure to a journey that began with me as the commander of this organization," he said. "To be able to talk to the troops and families again on this field, the division now under the command of (Major) General (Martin) Dempsey, was very inspirational for me and very moving. This organization did a tremendous job."
The soldiers, Sanchez said, have a lot to be proud of after their service in Iraq. "They brought freedom and stability, and began the rebuilding process of all of the institutions that had been totally decimated, and essentially eliminated, in the country of Iraq," he said.
"Because of their work in the city of Baghdad, they have revitalized the economy, they have stood up political systems and started re-establishing Iraqi security force capacity. This is something that the people of Iraq will look back over the years and really treasure."
Sanchez called Saddam Hussein's capture "a peak event for us," but added that the soldiers also brought back with them memories of the suffering the Iraqi people had to endure under the deposed dictator.
"I recall very clearly seeing 4- or 5-year-old kids in garbage dumps with dogs," he said. "And it made it very clear to us that that's what we were there fighting for: to bring them some prosperity that had not been afforded to the people by the former regime a very brutal regime that had oppressed that country for many, many years."
The general said the linkage between the Army's family readiness groups at home stations and the deployed soldiers developed quickly and was very effective. For example, when the 1st Armored Division's extension was announced, he said, the leadership at Wiesbaden did "an unbelievable job" in ensuring the families were cared for and their needs were addressed. "That allowed the soldier on the battlefield to focus on his mission and to accomplish his tasks at least cost," he added.
Sanchez predicted that thanks to the efforts of all military members serving in Iraq, that country will reintegrate itself into the community of nations as a free and democratic country. "That will make a huge impact on our world," he said.