Despite major victories over Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, soldiers from the Army's 3rd Cavalry Regiment were still seeing combat in the region during their advise-and-assist mission that ended in February.
The Stryker brigade combat team from Fort Hood, Texas, awarded roughly 60 combat badges -- a mix of Combat Infantry Badges (CIB) and Combat Action Badges (CAB), while supporting Iraqi forces in Anbar Province, along the border with Syria and Jordan, 3rd CR leaders told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon.
"We were in a combat environment, and we are engaged in combat activities," said Lt. Col. Kent Park, commander of 3rd Squadron, 3rd CR, describing his unit's deployment, which supported Operation Inherent Resolve from May 2018 to February 2019.
"That being said, our mission is very different from what it was previously," he said. "We are doing everything by, with and through our security partners. The Iraqis were clearly in the lead. ... They are a battle-hardened force that had gone through a pretty significant experience in their fight against ISIS."
Last December, the Iraqis celebrated the anniversary of their hard-won victory over ISIS with the help of U.S. and coalition forces. As the fight against ISIS forces moved across the border into Syria, U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces have continued to support Syrian Democratic Forces trying to quell the embattled terrorist force.
The unit leaders did not have the exact number of combat badges awarded, but 3rd CR Command Sgt. Maj. Adam Nash said the unit awarded "maybe 30 CABs and 30 CIBs."
Both Nash and Park appeared reluctant to give specific details about the engagements, but Park said the 3rd CR "had a squadron headquarters and some elements in Syria that were providing force protection and conducting some operations there."
"We obviously cannot control what the enemy does. ... The enemy likes to do everything from indirect fire, [improvised explosive devices], all sorts of different tactics that we cannot control," Park said.
There were no Purple Hearts awarded during the deployment, he added.
Nash said the CIBs were awarded to infantrymen who engaged enemy forces while on patrol and the CABs were awarded mainly to artillerymen.
"Our troopers were on patrol, and that is where that happened and, as for the CABs, those were primarily awarded to our artilleryman ... who were supporting with fires," Nash said. "They may have been engaged several times by direct or indirect fire."
Units from the 3rd CR oversaw the security of remote firebases and tactical areas that conducted cross-border firers during the fight against remnants of ISIS.
"Our task force created expeditionary combat power packages placed at key locations, so they could be rapidly deployed ... and these were commonly an artillery unit with some security elements that could rapidly go into different areas and provide fires," Park said.
Throughout the deployment, the 3rd CR's artillery squadron "fired 5,000 rounds" from M777 155mm howitzers, Nash said.
"It was a great time to be an artilleryman in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment," he said.
Both Park and Nash said that they were pleased to see how much the Iraqi forces have grown as a competent combat force.
"I was in Iraq, off and on, from 2005 through 2008. It is a different force," Nash said. "It's a prouder force now. ... They are happy to be in the lead.
"From a military mindset, if you can accomplish fire and maneuver, supporting your own maneuver with indirect fires, that is a huge leap. And to see them do that in combat, without our advisement, without our prompting -- to do that on their own, that was a huge leap," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.