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Operation Iraqi Freedom
Raiders (1st Brigade) Lead the Way
The 1st Brigade Combat Team arrived in Kuwait, uncertain of what the future held, with many questions yet to be answered. Their mission was simple — deter Iraqi aggression in the region. By March, following countless training exercises in the Kuwaiti desert and an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein from our commander in chief, the future seemed clear.
On the night of March 20, the questions were answered. Led by Task Force 3/69 Armor, the Raiders crossed the border into Iraq around 8 p.m. and began their march toward Baghdad. In four days’ time, the 1st BCT crossed the border, secured an airfield, convoyed 30 hours straight and traveled 300 kilometers. For the next eight days, the Raiders staged operations from an assembly area northwest of An Najaf. From March 25-27, during a sandstorm that resulted in 25-meter visibility, the brigade recon team and elements of TF 3/69 Armor and TF 3/7 Infantry fought around the clock with regular and unconventional Iraqi troops in Al Kifl — a northern suburb of An Najaf on the Euphrates River.
On April 9, Saddam Hussein’s regime officially crumbled when Baghdad fell to coalition forces led by the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized). When President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, the Raiders were already two weeks into stabilization and support operations.
Spartans (2nd Brigade) “Thunder Runs”
The Spartans’ decisiveness, assertiveness and skill during Operation Iraqi Freedom started immediately after President George W. Bush addressed Americans and the world March 17, 2003, and gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to get out of Iraq. The Spartan Soldiers had their first significant enemy contact March 23. From March 23 to 25, the brigade fought Fedayeen forces as it attacked to Objective Rams. After securing this objective in order to facilitate occupation by division and corps support elements, the brigade continued to advance north to Objective Spartans through small arms, rocket-propelled grenade and indirect fire from conventional and irregular forces that, while at times sustained, were largely not coordinated.
“Thunder Runs,” quick trips from Saints to Baghdad International Airport, began April 5. On April 7 the Spartans attacked Baghdad. A few days later, the major combat operations were over.
(3rd Brigade) Lend Support
After spending almost all of the preceding year in Kuwait, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s Sledgehammers raced across southern Iraq to seize the 3rd Infantry Division’s first objectives in and around Tallil Air Base on March 21. The brigade followed the 1st Brigade Combat Team through lanes in the berm that separated Kuwait from Iraq before 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment; 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment; and 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment attacked objectives Firebird, Clay and Liberty, which consisted of the air base and several key roads and bridges in its immediate area. After securing the objectives, the brigade allowed the rest of the division to pass it and move toward As Samawah.
They defended several bridges and kept Iraqi reinforcements from entering the city as 2nd BCT conducted the Thunder Run on April 7. The brigade fought off several Iraqi counterattacks, including an attack on its tactical operations center, over the course of April 6 and 7. The brigade was supported throughout the war by 203rd Main Support Battalion, which made sure the front-line troops got the food and supplies they needed.
Vanguards (4th Brigade)
Round out the Mission
The helicopters of 4th Brigade were with the division all the way, providing close air support, reconnaissance, resupply and casualty evacuation to the division’s forward combat assets. The Vanguards’ mission started the minute the division crossed the international border between Kuwait and Iraq. AH-64 Apache Longbows moved forward of the division’s ground units to observe incoming artillery fire on Iraqi outposts near the border. After the artillery fire ended, the Apaches moved in and destroyed any targets that survived the initial barrage. The Apaches continued to provide close air support throughout the push to Baghdad, giving crucial support in the battles for As Samawah, Objective Peach and Baghdad. But they were not 4th Brigade’s only contribution to the fight.
UH-60 Blackhawks from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment and the 507th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) flew almost constant missions to move casualties from the front lines to medical units in the rear. The 507th alone flew 19 missions in the war’s first 24 hours. The brigade’s Blackhawks also acted as command and control platforms for Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, division commander. All the helicopters were kept operating by forward ammunition and resupply points set up throughout the theater by the 603rd Aviation Support Battalion.
Beans and Bullets
Without “beans and bullets,” the 3rd Infantry Division could not have fought its way to Baghdad. Without fuel, food, ammunition, repair parts and the other classes of supply, there would have been no war. The division rear element followed the division main into Iraq to provide these supplies. Forward support battalions transported the supplies from the forward logistics base to the combat units, making sure the Marne warriors had what they needed to fight. Division Support Command encompassed the DREAR, along with 24th Corps Support Group. DISCOM’s mission is to support the brigade combat teams — getting logistics from V Corps down to the BCTs.
The 24th CSG mission was to primarily support nondivisional customers in 3rd Infantry Division areas of operation, but also to augment DISCOM’s support of 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers. DREAR, which also included many attached units, supported the division in many forms, from fuel farms — fields of 50,000-gallon fuel bags, set up at every position to supply bulk fuel for units — to water purification teams, vehicle repair, “Meals, Ready to Eat” and heat and serve meals, sundry packs and parts for damaged equipment. Also with DREAR were psychological operations units who broadcast a radio station from each position, Civil Affairs Soldiers who interacted with and helped the Iraqi civilians, 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Avengers to provide extra security, and explosive ordnance disposal teams. Wherever the division went, DREAR was right behind, providing the lifeblood it needed to maintain the fight.
Major Combat Operations were over, but the city of Baghdad, on whose streets the war was waged, was in a state of rebirth less than two months after the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) first rolled its tanks and Bradleys into Iraq’s capital. Its citizens were still trying to get back on their feet, and the coalition military was there to help. After combat, Soldiers shifted focus to support and stabilization operations in an effort to rebuild the war-ravaged country. The Soldiers conducted foot patrols and mounted patrols in every sector of the city, scanning the streets for signs of danger. They also had fixed sentries outside many gas stations and mosques maintaining the peace. They arrested looters, curfew breakers, citizens with weapons, and drunk and disorderly citizens. But their job didn’t just consist of policing the areas. They also spent much of their time rebuilding. Soldiers helped refurbish and reopen schools, hospitals, soccer fields, zoos and even amusement parks. They distributed hundreds of soccer balls, school supplies, air conditioners, fans, medical supplies and thousands of gallons of propane fuel.
They met with the sheiks and imams in each neighborhood, to determine what was best for its inhabitants. They also helped restore power and water to many neighborhoods. Task Force Neighborhood, a V Corps community improvement program, along with Iraqi citizens, cleaned trash and debris from neighborhoods and stadiums that were damaged both during the war and afterward, when looters ran rampant in Baghdad. The transition from wartime to peacekeeping wasn’t easy for many of the Soldiers.
“Before, just about everybody you saw wanted to do you bodily harm,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dwayne Anderson, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery fire support noncommissioned officer. “Now you see people waving and offering you cigarettes … that’s an extremely tough transition.”
One of Anderson’s Soldiers, Sgt. Daniel Nardy, added, “I’d rather be doing this than fighting a war.”