HEIDELBERG, Germany - It has begun.
In what is being billed as the largest military movement since World War II,
the United States has started launching the lead units for the first complete
turnover of forces in Iraq.
"The transition of forces has started," confirmed Marine Capt. David Romley,
a Pentagon spokesman. Pentagon officials have dubbed the second phase of
occupation forces Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.
Leading the effort are hundreds of Germany-based 21st Theater Support Command
logisticians who will help pave the way for more than 100,000 fresh troops who
are slated to take over occupation duties in Iraq over the next five months.
"These are the very first units in Europe to leave for OIF 2, and they are
among the first for the entire Army," said 21st TSC spokesman Maj. Mark Wright
as the first 600 troops — mostly from supply, maintenance and transportation
units — began loading aboard military transport aircraft at Ramstein Air Base
late Thursday night.
"We're pretty excited," said Sgt. William Stevenson with the 612th
Transportation Detachment, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany, shortly before
flying. "It's a good feeling to know we're actually helping with operations."
The 21-year-old from Reno, Nev., will help manage convoys of heavy gear and
equipment now on the way from European- and U.S.-based units. Most of the gear
will arrive in Kuwait to make the long journey across Iraq's dangerous desert
"Of course there's fear, especially dealing with the convoys," said
Stevenson. "But we did a lot of training before we left. I feel very well
By May, military leaders hope to replace nearly all the units now in Iraq,
while also reducing the total number of U.S. forces there from 131,000 to
105,000, said Romley. "The magnitude of this is huge," said Romley. "It's going
to be a very involved process."
Units will also be on the move in Afghanistan in the coming months. The 25th
Infantry Division, augmented by a contingent of Marines, is slated to take over
the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts there from the 10th Mountain
Division in April.
In the end, eight of the Army's 10 active-duty divisions will have moved.
"In total — those coming in and those coming out — this will be equal in size
to the largest movements since World War II," he said.
Among the units swapping out in Iraq:
• 1st Infantry Division, augmented by the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker
Brigade and National Guard units, will replace the 101st Airborne Division in
Mosul and 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit.
• 1st Marine Division, augmented by a brigade of the 25th Infantry Division
(Light), will replace the 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah and the 3rd
Armored Cavalry Regiment along Iraq's western border.
• 1st Cavalry Division, augmented by a brigade of National Guardsmen, will be
responsible for the Baghdad area now patrolled by the 1st Armored Division.
• III Corps will replace V Corps as the command nucleolus for forces in Iraq
at the coalition headquarters in Baghdad.
Those forces will arrive inside a still very volatile Iraq.
Over the past week alone there has been an average of 18 attacks against
military units every day, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters Thursday
in Baghdad. That's the same day a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is believed to
have been shot down by a rocket, killing all nine soldiers aboard.
The biggest concern during the transfer of authority, Kimmitt told Stars and
Stripes, is "maintaining the pace of offensive combat operations and
maintaining the momentum. We've got to keep rebuilding, we've got to keep
offensive operations going and keep the pressure on the enemy, while at the
same time rotating 250,000 soldiers."
"Our focus right now is on ensuring that the turnover happens as smoothly as
possible," added Lt. Col. Kevin Gainor, an Army spokesman in Iraq.
"We're trying to insure the experience and knowledge from those units who
have been here is passed on to units that are arriving," he said.
In addition to stabilizing to 105,000 troops inside Iraq, Pentagon planners
expect to have another 13,000 support troops, most based in Kuwait, for a total
of 118,000 dedicated to Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Romley.
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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.
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