A/1-103RD FA Brigade-Operation Iraqi Freedom
Alpha Battery, 1ST Battalion, 103RD Field Artillery Brigade received a pre-mobilization Warning Order on November 21, 2003 to prepare to mobilize 84 soldiers in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On December 3, 2004 ten percent of the battery including Captain Christian M. Neary (of Cumberland, RI) and the Battery Commander and First Sergeant David R. Taillon (of Lincoln, RI) and the Battery First Sergeant reported to the Armory of Mounted Commands at 1051 North Main Street, Providence for state active duty in preparation for an upcoming deployment overseas.
By the first week of December, the battery?s mission was not clear so preparation began to deploy the battery configured as a Motorized Field Artillery Rifle Battery similar to a Light Infantry Anti-Tank Company. By the middle of December, CPT Neary received word they were to deploy as Field Artillery augmentees to the 1ST Battalion, 206TH Field Artillery Regiment, 39TH Infantry Brigade, Arkansas Army National Guard who were already mobilized and training at Fort Hood, Texas. CPT Neary and a small contingent traveled to Fort Hood and made liaison with the Commander and Sergeant Major of the 1-206TH FA Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Keith Klemmer and Command Sergeant Major Dewey Dunham. For three days this advanced party executed logistical and operational training coordination with the new higher headquarters and Fort Hood in preparation for the battery?s arrival in early January.
One hundred and four soldiers from the 1ST Battalion, 103RD Field Artillery Brigade reported to the Army National Guard Armory on Airport, Road in Warwick to begin the Soldier Readiness Process in order to identify the soldiers who met the operational qualifications of the upcoming deployment according to the new MTOE. These soldiers came from all batteries within the 1-103RD FA Battalion including those from Charlie Battery and Bristol, Bravo Battery and North Smithfield and Headquarters Service Battery from Providence but most of the soldiers came from the original Alpha Battery from Providence. On January 3, 2004, 84 soldiers were mustered at the Schofield Armory, 745 New London Ave, Cranston in accordance with Federal activation orders in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for a period not to exceed 720 days. On January 6, 2004, after three days of administrative preparation to include wills, powers of attorney, and special equipment issue, the unit traveled from TF Green Airport by civilian airline to Fort Hood Texas to begin mobilization training.
Captain Neary, 1SG Taillon and the Redlegs of Alpha Battery quickly integrated into the 1-206TH Field Artillery Regiment and the 39Th Infantry Brigade. By the second day at Fort Hood it was clear the battery was behind the remainder of the brigade with regard to completing pre-deployment training required for entering a combat zone. The remainder of the 1-206TH and the 39TH had been at Fort Hood since mid-October 2003 and were well on their way to having all the required tasks completed by the end of January 2004. Captain Neary gathered the battery late one evening and identified the grim reality that the battery may not be able to complete the required tasks to depart Fort Hood with the remainder of the brigade. It was at this battery meeting that the soldiers unanimously agreed to work as late and hard as necessary to depart Fort Hood with the remainder of the Task Force. The battery put together an aggressive training plan that ensures the unit accomplishes all the required training tasks and on schedule for a timely deployment to the next training site. With that said, the battery did not have time to move into formal barracks. They literally slept on the floors of an old medical clinic, dining facility, kitchen and they did have access to eight four man rooms that they shared with members of the 1-206TH. It was in mid-January that SGT Russell ?Rusty? Collier, from Headquarters Service Battery, 1-206TH, was attached to the unit as the battery medic. Rusty quickly integrated into the battery and there formed a bond of mutual respect and admiration between him and ?those dam Rhodies?, as SGT Collier would fondly refer to his new unit. The meager accommodations did not daunt the resolute soldiers of Alpha Battery and they trained for 19 hours on average daily to accomplish the numerous training events required of National Guard units deploying to Iraq. At 0400 hours CST February 1, 2004 the battery departed Fort Hood with the entire brigade for Fort Polk, Louisiana to complete a Joint Readiness Training Center pre-combat training scenario that would duplicate as closely as possible the combat situations they would face in Iraq.
The battery had accomplished the impossible. In just 24 days the battery was the only battery/company sized unit (out of 47 units) within the entire brigade with 100% completion rate for the training and administrative requirements for deployment. They had done this in less than one third the amount of time as the remainder of the brigade had since they arrived at Fort Hood back in October 2003. This high standard is a result of the work ethic and dedication the Rhode Island Redlegs displayed during the early days of the deployment. This also caused all units throughout the brigade to ?take notice? of this unit from Rhode Island.
The battery traveled by bus across Texas and south through Louisiana and arrived at Fort Polk late in the afternoon of February 1ST. The battery had not taken a training holiday or day off since they departed Rhode Island so CPT Neary and 1SG Taillon petitioned the battalion and brigade commanders to formally request an exception to Fort Polk policy for a deploying unit to spend an evening at the Sports Pub on Fort Polk to enjoy Super Bowl XXXVIII as the beloved New England Patriots were set to do battle against the Carolina Panthers. The exception was granted and the battery enjoyed a night of great fun and camaraderie. The Patriots obviously won the Super Bowl and this was a tremendous reward for a battery that had performed three weeks of arduous training.
For the next three weeks the battery the Mission Training Exercise in a simulated environment designed to closely replicate the conditions in Iraq. The battalion lived on a Forward Operating Base that included a dirt forward landing airstrip for re-supplying the entire brigade. The first week the battery performed entry control point duty as they screened, searched and credentialed all incoming and outgoing civilian and military traffic to prevent the entry of insurgent terrorists not friendly to the coalition. They teamed up with veterans from the British Army who had worked check points in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and 1990s to refine their training and to bring the reality of their efforts to the forefront through the stories and experiences these British Troops shared. The second week the battery transitioned to manning the guard towers surrounding the biggest target for the enemy, the flight landing strip. They repelled several insurgent attacks and their high state of training readiness once again was clearly evident to the Fort Polk Observer Controllers who evaluated the battery?s progress. During the last week the battery was called upon to execute a Cordon & Search of a local village. Alpha Battery executed the outer cordon so well; it was noted by the Infantry Observer Controllers as the best they had seen since units started rotating through the center over the past 12 months. The battery?s reputation was established. They showed they had the desire, the knowledge and the leadership to tackle any mission they were assigned. The rotation ended and the battery was satisfied they were ready to deploy to Iraq. Before they deployed, they brigade authorized one last visit from family members to see their soldiers for a weekend pass. All soldiers were given the opportunity to relax and spend some alone time with their wives, children and other family members. Many of them spent time in Lafayette, Louisiana where they could find hotels and cheaper flight for their incoming family as the remainder of the 4000 other soldiers in the brigade reserved the local accommodations near Fort Polk. Five soldiers from the battery had to enjoy just a single day with family as they volunteered to go forward to Kuwait as part of the Battery?s Advanced Party. This group of twelve soldiers was under the leadership of First Lieutenant Mark Bourgery and SSG Gary Ferrara. They departed Fort Polk on March 1, 2004 along the other advanced party representatives in the brigade to prepare the brigade?s desert base camp in Kuwait. This advanced party encountered airplane problems and spent two days in Germany enroute while their airplane was repaired and they arrived in Kuwait on March 5TH. The remainder of the battery departed March 4RD and after stopping for an aircraft refueling in Shannon, Ireland, they arrived in Kuwait on March 7TH.
The main body of the battery joined back up with their advanced party on March 7TH at Camp New York located nearly 100 miles into the western Kuwait desert from the capital city. Once at Camp New York the battery received their classified orders for ground movement into Iraq. On March 16, 2004 at 0351 hours local time, Alpha Battery, 1-103RD, 1-206TH, 39TH Brigade Combat Team crossed the international border into Iraq and became the first 103RD Field Artillery Brigade unit to serve in a combat zone in nearly fifty years. Ironically the battalion was the first 1ST Cavalry Division Unit to arrive in Iraq and as the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver Brigadier General _______ said, this battalion is now the main effort for the entire 1ST Cavalry Division. The movement was over 600 miles in length and including navigating around several cities considered not friendly to the coalition. Overall, the local populace reception was very welcoming with civilians especially children greeting the battery along the way with American and Iraqi flags. After two overnight stops for fuel and rest, the battery linked up with our receiving unit, 4TH Battalion, 1ST Field Artillery Regiment, 1ST Armored Division just south of Baghdad. These soldiers were battle hardened and they instilled an even greater confidence in the Alpha battery soldiers. The 4-1 escort led the battery through the city and to the final destination known as Al-Taji Air Base about 17 miles north of Baghdad. This former Iraqi Air Force Base would become home for the ?Rhodies? for the next 12 months.
The battery assumed the mission at the main Entry Control Point (ECP) onto Camp Taji. There they vetted, credentialed, searched and provided security for nearly 5000 local Iraqi civilian contractors working on the base daily. These contractors were rebuilding the basic infrastructure as Camp Taji would soon become the single greatest concentration of coalition forces anywhere in Iraq. Knowing that thousands of other soldiers were going to call Taji home, 1SG Dave Taillon and 1LT Mark Bourgery began a major infrastructure overhaul of the entry control point to ensure that every civilian contractor and each civilian vehicle was searched by US and Iraqi soldiers at least three times. The battery truly understood that they were the last line of defense to protect their comrades in arms on the camp. The overhaul would last a year and throughout the rebuilding process the ECP was consistently recognized by General Officers, Inspectors General and Military Security Specialists as the most secure and efficiently operated throughout the theatre.
When Alpha Battery deployed to Fort Hood en-route to Operation Iraqi Freedom back in January, most thought we would perform missions focused on a "military police" type role. The battery reviewed published papers on tactics, techniques and procedures for convoy escort, route clearance, cordon & search and conducting traffic control points to take advantage of those lessons learned by soldiers already deployed to Iraq so they would be prepared for the missions that we would face. Upon arrival at Fort Hood the battery learned all these special missions but the 13B cannoneers and the 13E Fire Direction Specialists never lost sight of what we were originally trained to do; that is to destroy, neutralize or suppress the enemy by cannon, rocket, and missile fires and to assist in integrating fire support into combined arms operations. The battery leadership knew they may be called upon to execute firing battery operations in support of maneuver forces around Taji so beginning in early May 2004, the battery began intensive training on the 1-206TH?s organic indirect weapon systems, M102 howitzer and the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Computer System. This was necessary because back in Rhode Island the battery was only familiar with the M198 howitzer and the older Battery Computer System and they had to learn the fundamental differences in operating the two different sets of artillery weapons and fire direction computer systems.
On June 1, 2004 at 2205 hours local time, Staff Sergeant Luis Ortiz, Sergeant Johan Calderon, Sergeant Gerald Denaris, Specialist Edward Dupuis, Specialist Danny Repose, and Specialist Ntaganda Ntiziharwa represented the 103D Field Artillery Brigade and the Rhode Island Army National Guard and fired the first artillery rounds in combat since World War II. The battalion and brigade intelligence personnel identified a potential target and requested the 1ST Battalion, 25TH Attack Aviation Brigade, 25TH Infantry Division to watch over and to call the target. The initial call for fire came from an AH-64 Longbow Apache helicopter, call sign "Regulator 31". The Rhode Island "Redlegs" answered the call and within a matter of minutes had fired 12 high explosive 105-millimeter rounds within 15 meters of the target. The expended brass from the first round fired was saved and will be displayed in the 103RD Field Artillery Museum at the Armory of Mounted Commands for generations to come. The whole section along with LTC Klemmer, the 1-206TH Battalion Commander, and CPT Neary autographed the canister so future generations of Redlegs will know this battery represented their forefathers of stone hurlers well during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Over the course of the following days and nights all sections and all soldiers fired additional rounds at targets identified by our higher headquarters all with tremendous accuracy and precision. Over the next three months, the battery performed firing battery operations and accurately delivered four hundred and ninety rounds against enemy targets in and around Camp Taji.
Along with providing artillery fires in support of the 39TH Brigade and the 1ST Cavalry Division, another mission the battery performed involved the training the Iraqi National Guard as they take over the security mission in their country. 1LT Dan Smith, traditionally the Battery Fire Direction Officer led a team of experienced Battery NCOs and NCOs from units throughout the brigade to train and support the newly formed Iraqi National Guard (formerly the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) as they prepared to assume command and control of security throughout the country. Their mission was crucial to the coalition?s success here in Iraq and for that reason, the battery sent some of their best junior leaders to teach Iraqi Company Commanders, First Sergeants, Platoon Sergeants, and Squad Leaders the basics in leadership, tactical skills and general military operations. This group of soldiers accomplished so much and set a very high ?bar? for these patriotic Iraqis whose only goal is to establish a safe and secure environment in this country so that the battery could go home. During the month of August, the battery transitioned from the artillery role to the convoy escort and quick reaction force mission for the Brigade. The artillery section chiefs conducted additional training and the battery conducted a great two-day fire and maneuver live fire exercise in preparation for these new missions. This training along with weeks of training back in the states established the battery?s confidence that this mission, like all those they had accomplished so far, would continue to set the standard for the 1-206TH Field Artillery Regiment and the 39TH Brigade Combat Team. In a meeting, with all battery commanders and battalion staff assembled LTC Keith Klemmer said, ?I don?t give compliments very often, so when I do, I really mean what I am saying. If everyone in the battalion did their jobs as well as ?Rhody? did them, no one on this camp would have anything to worry about, and I mean that.? In a letter back to the families in July 2004, CPT Neary showed how proud he was of his battery as he wrote about teamwork and camaraderie.
CPT Neary wrote, ?I thought I would start off this month?s update to our families with a letter to the editor published in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper on July 11, 2004. The letter, written by SSG Alberto Reyes from the 1ST Armored Division, sums up how everyone in Alpha Battery feels about each other and why we continue to set the standard for others to follow. ??In my opinion, I am the member of the best team in the world. On my team, no one is a superstar. We are just a bunch of unknown players, but we function great as a team. We don?t have salary caps and we can?t get traded to a different team, even if we ask. My team is unique and as far as I know, we are undefeated over three decades. With this kind of record, my teammates never make it into the newspapers, but if the Los Angeles Lakers win ten games in four weeks they will be all over the newspapers across America. I don?t think members of my team have ever signed an autograph, but I know they are the most underrated and underpaid in America. My team spends more time together than any other team. We play on the road for a ridiculous amount of time, but I have never heard any of my teammates complaining or saying they wish they could play for a team closer to home. Members of my team have never slept in luxurious hotels or driven expensive cars . . . . [and] I can say that I am the team Captain, but it really doesn?t matter because I am just a team player, and I like to work as hard as they work. Players in America will panic if a fan throws a candy wrapper, popcorn, or peanuts at them. They would stop the game. My players play constantly under pressure from rocket-propelled grenades, rockets, improvised explosive devices, and mortars and God knows what else is thrown at them. But my players don?t even flinch; they are focused to win the game. My players fight for freedom and liberty, to make sure those whiners back in America enjoy the freedom, liberty, and fortune that we don?t even have. I love my team and I will give my life in their defense. What team in America works 365 days, 24 hours a day, seven days a week? No team in the world. And my teammates will make anywhere home. They will sleep on the floor, in the mud or sand, and still never complain. I am proud of my team and though I know I will be totally unknown for the rest of my career, I will never play for another team. My team is . . . [Alpha Battery, 1-103D Field Artillery, 39TH Brigade Combat Team, 1ST Cavalry Division].? ?
On August 6TH, the battery assumed a new mission of Camp Cooke Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and convoy escort for missions to and from different bases in and around Baghdad. The soldiers quickly learned the highways and byways around Baghdad and the section chiefs eagerly took a liking to their new role as patrol leader for the vehicles and soldiers entrusted to them during convoy operations. Just as quickly as they took this new mission, we were tasked with providing security along one of the main supply routes in Iraq. This took the battery off convoy escort duties but afforded them the opportunity to interact with locals and to continue to earn the trust and confidence of Iraqis as they established a safe and secure environment for the areas around Camp Taji, now renamed Camp Cooke after the 1ST Armored Division Sergeant Major killed on Camp Taji on Christmas Eve 2003.
This deployment was not without any rest and relaxation. Beginning in June 2004, the battery began sending soldiers home for the 15-day Environmental Leave Program and the feedback from each of them as they returned was very positive as the guys are able to enjoy time with family and friends to decompress from their duties in a combat zone. The battery was very fortunate to be able to offer leave to every soldier in the battery prior to Christmas 2004. It was over the course of the summer that Gregg Mierka one of the leaders of Battery A, 1ST Regiment, RI Light Artillery made contact with CPT Neary. This historical organization for Alpha Battery, 1-103D traces its lineage to the earliest days of Rhode Island Artillery during the Civil War. The battery was very grateful to Gregg and his associates for their support as they established the newest A/1-103D Website for all to view for additional information about the deployment and Battery A, 1ST RI Light Artillery at http://www.geocities.com/generalgreene1770/riguard/AlfaBattery103rd.html Additionally, Gregg sent their guidon to Iraq to help document the historical nature of the deployment, RI Light Artillery of the Civil War side by side with modern RI Artillery in action in Iraq.
The summer Iraqi heat was something that no one can properly prepare for until you have lived it. Through the months of July and August and September, the soldiers endured 120 degree heat and some of them were consuming upwards of 20 liters of water daily just to stay hydrated. By mid-September Task Force ?Rhody? as the battery became known, saw the weather in Al-Taji, Iraq finally break from the oppressive 120-degree daily high temperatures to much more comfortable upper 90s as autumn approaches and the long, hot Iraqi summer is gone. Although the soldiers are still working 12-hour shifts, they are not sweating nearly as much as before and overall things are more comfortable. Depending on what missions they are performing, the soldiers are still able to enjoy a day off every week or so. Most of them spend this down time doing laundry, playing basketball/lifting weights in the gym, sleeping and talking on the phone to loved ones at home.
Task Force ?Rhody? still has two squads attached from Headquarters Battery, 1-206TH as well as 3RD Platoon, 239TH Engineer Company and the battery?s total combat power now exceeds 135 people. The past few weeks these soldiers have patrolled the Main Supply Route 24 hours a day 7 days a week to ensure it is safe for logistical convoys that pass through the area of operations. In the past 30 days Rhody Troopers have significantly reduced the enemy?s ability to wage combat operations by discovering many Improvised Explosive Devices, several caches of weapons and other explosives, and by detaining suspected terrorists and bomb makers as they patrol the highways and local countryside.
On October 3, 2004, the battery found itself in its worst case scenario. At approximately 1630 hours local time SGT Christopher Potts, another section from the battery and two squads of the Iraqi National Guard were detaining insurgents suspected of building improvised rocket launchers for use against American forces. As they traveled south along the Tigris River just south of Taji near a village known as Muzaraf, the patrol came under small arms fire and they observed the enemy fleeing into a nearby housing area. SGT Potts and his patrol pursued the shooter, and dismounted from their armored HMMWVs and continued the pursuit on foot. SGT Potts and three other Alpha Battery soldiers along with four Iraqi National Guard troops conducted fire and maneuver across a field in an attempt to locate the insurgent. They took cover behind a berm and SGT Potts? instructed they would tactically move around the berm in 2-man buddy teams while the others covered their movement. As SGT Potts committed himself to making the turn around the berm he was engaged by automatic weapons fire. He yelled for his soldiers to ?stay back? and he ran around the berm while engaging the enemy with his M4 carbine. SGT Christopher Potts made the ultimate sacrifice during this maneuver. His actions saved his soldiers from certain injury or death. SGT Collier, the battery medic, was the second person in SGT Potts? two man buddy team and immediately upon seeing his friend down, gave his weapon to another soldier asked them to get his medic bag from the HMMWV and ran to SGT Potts to render first aid. SGT Russell Collier was killed doing what he was trained to do, save lives. The battery and battalion leadership immediately began submitting awards recommendations for Valor for these two NCOs who gave their lives saving other soldiers.
On October 5TH, Alpha Battery, 1ST Battalion, 103RD Field Artillery was driven by justice, loyalty ad love for one another by leading a cordon, search, and raid mission focused on the village where our brothers-in-arms lost their lives. Alpha Battery had 70 soldiers, Bravo Battery and Charlie Battery 1-206TH had 20 soldiers each, a Coalition Special Forces Platoon sent 32 soldiers, Bravo Company, 2-162 Infantry sent approximately 40 soldiers, the Iraqi National Guard sent 87 soldiers and 1ST Battalion 25TH Attack Aviation flew over watch with two Kiowa Warrior Helicopter Gunships and Task Force ?Rhody? seized objective ?Providence? in an attempt to capture those responsible for taking two fathers, two husbands and two of our brothers-in-arms. During the raid, they detained 52 local nationals and uncovered hundreds of illegal mortars, rockets, rocket propelled grenades, land mines, improvised explosive devices, Kalishnikov rifles, crew served machine guns, electronic timer devices for roadside bombs and various other materials used by the insurgents. The battery was fairly confident they had captured one of the enemy fighters responsible for killing SGTs Potts and Collier and the evidence to process him into the Iraqi penal system for many years to come. This combat force went to the mission and was driven for the remainder of their time in Iraq with the battle cry of ?we are doing this for ?Pottsy? and ?Doc??.
The battery found a local tailor and had colored pattern sewed on the inside of their battle dress uniform shirtsleeve. There sewed on the inside of their sleeves in the colors of black and red were block letters spelling out the names Potts and Collier. This simple remembrance united the battery as they continued the mission and acts as a source of strength?driving out fear and anxiety to motivate them in the trying times they would face in the months ahead. The terrible events of October 3RD forever remained in each soldiers? heart and on their minds, but they had to move forward because that is what Chris Potts and Rusty Collier would want them to do. The raid on October 5TH into the village that was responsible for killing SGTs Potts and Collier uncovered what was described as an Improvised Explosive Device ?factory?. During the raid, Task Force Rhody found 30 IEDs ready to be placed along roads to kill and injure unsuspecting soldiers and local innocent Iraqis in the name of terror as they drove by. LTC Klemmer said the value of this discovery would be felt for months to come. Furthermore, this find was described by the 1ST Cavalry Division Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team as the most significant discovery of electronic IEDs and their components in the Baghdad area since the start of the war.
On October 8, 2004, Camp Cooke celebrated the lives of SGT Potts and SGT Collier in a fitting memorial and military tribute. This was an important part of closure and progress as the men tried to cope with the loss of their friends. Alpha Battery?s sister battery Bravo Battery, 1-103RD Field Artillery visited during the memorial from their camp in Baghdad. This reunion helped all find strength as their commemorated their fallen comrades. As recently promoted Major Neary made comments regarding the bravery and sacrifice and as 1SG Taillon made the final role call for Sergeant Rusty Collier and Sergeant Christopher Potts that was answered by deafening silence and then followed by a 21 Gun salute and Taps played by the bugler, the battery had truly earned its battle stripes with the blood of their own fallen comrades.
Thanksgiving Day was particularly memorable as the 1ST Cavalry Division constructed a modern dining facility that opened for Thanksgiving Day Dinner. Every kind of traditional food was served and once again served as a very traditional respite from the daily activities in combat. In early December the 1-206TH Field Artillery Battalion celebrated the feast of St Barbara in Taji, Iraq. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of field artillerymen and field artillery units celebrate this feast annually around the world. It was very unique in that this was the first and hopefully the last time the battery would have such a celebration under wartime conditions. The newly constructed Camp Taji chapel was converted into a function room and the 1-206TH Field Artillery Regiment along with Alpha Battery, 1-103D Field Artillery Brigade, along with field artillerymen from both the Army and the Marine Corps, gathered together to award the Honorable Order of St Barbara to several deserving candidates. They included newly promoted CPT Dan Smith, 1SG Dave Taillon, SSG Michael Zompa, SSG James Paiva, SSG Luis Ortiz, SSG James Pimental, SGT Richard Gage, SGT Stephen Ferreira, SGT Nick Malmberg, SGT Gerald Denaris, and SGT Willie Alexander. Brigadier General (BG) Formica, the commander of III Armored Corps Artillery was the guest speaker (surely he was selected because he is from RI and graduated the ROTC Program at Bryant College in 1977). Also in attendance were BG Hammond, the 1ST Cavalry Assistant Division Commander for Support, and BG Chastain, the 39TH BCT Commander. A good meal was prepared and nonalcoholic champagne was served for all to enjoy.
In early December 2004, the battery returned to the main Entry Control Point on Taji and assumed the duties they had begun eight months earlier. It was much easier to work the ECP as it had transitioned from a string of razor wire across a dirt road between two tanks to a huge complex measuring some 1000 meters in depth and 400 meters in width. This new size and layout designed by 1LT Bourgery and 1SG Taillon ensured the safety of all who lived on Camp Cooke, which numbered over 15,000 US Soldiers and 10,000 Iraqi soldiers. On Christmas Day 2004, there was a cold rain and even sleet as the Battery performed their duties at the ECP. The PX workers from AAFES visited each soldier on the position with snacks and holiday treats. The battery even had an artificial Christmas Tree in the building they converted into their headquarters, that became known as the Battery Operations Center.
By late January 2005, the battery was ready to be done with their year in Iraq but the most important task had yet to be accomplished: the first free Iraqi election in over 30 years. The Iraqi people held their first free election on January 30, 2005. The battery was responsible for ensuring the safe passage of the Iraqi Army soldiers through the gate into a nearby village to exercise their new democratic right to vote. The battery processed several thousand soldiers through the process and the day as a whole was a tremendous success. The husbands, fathers and sons of Rhode Island were witness to a piece of history that will remain with them for their entire lives. These experiences are surely something they will share with their children and grandchildren for years to come. The battery knew that day that the path to success was not going to be easy and that the seemingly impossible had to be done but they were comforted in remembering that other patriots came before them and overcame tremendous adversity and they looked to them for inspiration during difficult times. In late 1776, the American Army was downtrodden and loosing hope. It was on Christmas Eve that George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River and execute a daring attack on the enemy because he knew the country needed a decisive victory to help solidify the hope that freedom and victory were near. So in the sleet, snow and freezing temperatures they crossed the river and captured Trenton, NJ and nearly 900 unsuspecting enemy soldiers. So just as the first Americans overcame adversity, it is lessons like these that helped the battery remain dedicated, and truly understand that they were fighting for their children?s future in securing the Iraqi freedom for generations to come.
On February 13, 2005, the beginnings of the replacing unit started to arrive at Taji. Ironically, it was the same unit the battery had replaced some 12 months earlier, back for the second tour in Iraq. The 4TH Battalion, 1ST Field Artillery Regiment, 3RD Brigade Combat Team, 1ST Armored Division quickly transitioned into their new roles and on February 24, 2005 a relief in place ceremony took place in the battery operations center as Charlie Battery, 4-1ST FA assumed authority of the main ECP at Camp Taji from Alpha Battery, 1-103RD FA.
SFC Tony Mendonca was the first soldier in the battery to arrive back in the US as he went forward to Fort Sill to prepare for the demobilization process of the battery and the battalion back to Citizen Soldiers. On March 15, 2005, the battery departed Kuwait City, made a stopover in northern Germany, where they enjoyed some long overdue German Beer. Five hours after departing Germany the Captain of the chartered jet came across the intercom and said ?Good morning soldiers. We will be landing in Bangor, Maine for fuel in about 45 minutes and we have just crossed into the airspace of the United States of America and on behalf of a grateful nation, let me be the first to say Welcome Home.? The entire plane exploded into applause and tears of joy and happiness streamed down everyone?s faces. After the second stopover in Bangor, Maine the battery arrived at their final destination, the Lawton, OK Airport on March 17, 2005. On March 22ND, after six days of out processing, Major General Reginald Centrachio, the Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard and the Adjutant General of the State of Rhode Island ordered two C-130Js from the Rhode Island Air National Guard to Fort Sill Army Airfield to bring the battery home. Accompanying the general were the 1-103RD Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major, LTC Mark Habershaw and CSM Richard Lafone. Also there to greet the soldiers home was Colonel (retired) Howie Brown a former 103RD FA Brigade commander. After an evening of story telling and camaraderie, went to bed and early in the morning loaded their bags and began the flight back to Rhode Island.
March 23, 2005 was a blustery cold day as Alpha Battery returned home to Quonset Air National Guard Base, Rhode Island. The plane banked 90 degrees as they passed over the families and friends gathered on the tarmac. The ramp of the C-103J opened and the soldiers filed off the airplane under two crossed M198 Howitzers and they assembled in formation with a red rose in one hand and red balloon in the other. With the Governor of Rhode Island Don Carcieri, MG Centrachio and Mrs. Terri Potts adjacent to the battery formation, the soldiers simultaneously released the red balloons and Mrs. Potts released three gold balloons as a ceremony of closure for the battery having returned home and having lost a fellow brother in arms. The battery marched into the hangar and was released to waiting family and friends. The battery was officially mustered off active duty on April 24, 2005 as some of the soldiers took their remaining accrued leave from March 23RD to April 24TH. In total the battery served on active duty 479 days from January 3, 2004 until April 24, 2005 including nearly 13 months in a combat zone. Each member of the battery was awarded the Combat Action Badge for their performance against an armed, hostile enemy during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This badge was specially created by the Chief of Staff of the Army to honor those soldiers who were not eligible to receive the Combat Infantryman Badge for similar wartime service. Additionally, SGT Russell Collier was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and SSG Christopher Potts was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor Device for their courage and valor on October 3, 2004. Eight other members of the battery were decorated with the Bronze Star for service in Iraq and every other soldier in the battery received the Army Commendation Medal.
Posted by Christian Neary
Apr 20 2006 12:27:31:000PM