Thursday, April 06, 2006

SO PROUD OF MY 48TH!!!! (All 4,000 of 'em!)

48th gained ‘life experience’ in Iraq

By MONI BASU Wednesday, April 5, 2006, 11:49 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tallil Air Base, Iraq — Under a Georgia Bulldogs banner in his second-floor office at the 48th Brigade Combat Team’s headquarters, Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver sipped a Diet Coke as he anticipated relief that is just around the corner.

By the middle of May, the 4,400 soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard unit will be home after a year-long deployment in Iraq. As commander of the 48th, Rodeheaver will no longer have to worry about so many lives at risk in the war zone that is Iraq.
Rodeheaver, 53, a manager of economic and community development for Georgia Power Co., gave his citizen soldiers high marks for their performance. It was the first time a Georgia Guard unit had seen combat since World War II.

In its full combat role in south Baghdad between early June and late October, the 48th Brigade completed what Rodeheaver called “an amazing” 12,640 patrols, trained over 26,000 Iraqi security officers and captured and detained 474 suspected insurgents. The Georgia soldiers discovered 150 roadside bombs and weapons caches with 15,000 munitions.
The brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment conducted the largest air assault raid ever by a National Guard unit.

Rodeheaver said the brigade also did much with humanitarian efforts, making more than 200 drops of food, water, clothing and school supplies. It opened medical clinics in Baghdad and Diwaniyah and a new school in Batha in southern Iraq. The soldiers helped establish 22 polling sites for the Iraqi elections.

Since November, most of the 48th Brigade has been in a combat support role, providing security for military bases and traveling 1.2 million miles with supply truck convoys.
“The soldiers have done a tremendous job here and I am certainly proud of them,” Rodeheaver said. “I am looking forward to getting them back with their families so they can get on with their lives.”

Rodeheaver reflected on his brigade’s year in Iraq in an interview this week. Here are excerpts.

Q: What is the 48th Brigade’s greatest accomplishment in Iraq?

A: I think that we really accomplished three major things. One was the combat deployment itself — being able to move a National Guard unit like we have over here and then get back with all of our parts and pieces. The relationships we built up and parts of the government we built in south Baghdad was a huge accomplishment because those areas had never had an election. The other accomplishment is the relationship between the National Guard and the active Army has gotten better because of the relationships we built with the 3rd Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 18th Airborne Corps and some of the other units we dealt with.

Q: How was it different for you, being a National Guard unit?

A: We typically are older [in average age of soldiers] than active Army units and because of that we do things a little bit differently. We are trained to fight but we also have secondary skills that we bring that the active Army units don’t have. For instance, the young men in the active Army units are not old enough to have had a job for long or build a career, whereas I had environmental engineers, construction engineers, people who built water plants, policemen, all those kinds of things that brought those life experiences to the fight. So the big difference is that when we went into some of the cities, we were more accepted by the elders in the tribes because our folks were older and they understood more about how to build a city, how to build a community rather than just come in as a fighting soldier.

Q: How will your soldiers gain from the Iraq experience?

A: Gray hair. For a lot of the folks, this was their first deployment and they are going back now with a lot of combat experience. But I think they are also going back with a lot of life experience because they had to deal with another culture. They had to learn to communicate with people they couldn’t speak the same language with. They are taking back some compassion they probably didn’t have before. A lot of them understand a lot more about people from other places that they may not have understood before.

Q: What lessons did you learn from this deployment?

A: We might have done some of our preliminary training a little differently before we came over here. I think we might have tried to give more of the cultural training because again we’re not going to teach our soldiers to speak Arabic — we just don’t have the time to do that — but we can make them understand why someone [who is Arab] does something the way they do versus the way we do it and make them understand those things so that it helps them when they go through an Iraqi house, how they treat people.

Q: What are your projections for Iraq’s future?

A: My opinion is that Iraq is standing up very quickly on its own. But it’s going to take some time. It’s not something you change with just an election; it changes with generations. What we’re trying to do here is change mind-sets and procedures so that generations that come behind this can change without having to fight for what you can change all the time. I think Iraq has got a brilliant future.

Q: Should U.S. forces stay here for some time?

A: If you look at rebuilding Iraq, I can see what people would say — maybe it’s time to pull our boys back. But if you look at the global war on terrorism, and say how is this affecting that, then I think we need to see it through to the end.


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