National Guard — March_2014
Change Language:
The Guard Surge in Iraq
Bob Haskell


In 2005, active-Army brigades couldn’t provide the bulk of maneuver forces in Iraq and begin to reset for the future. What did Army leaders do? They called out the Guard

IT SURE SEEMED LIKE COMBAT. Just ask anyone who was there.

Nearly two full years after President George W. Bush had declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq on May 1, 2003, the Army National Guard was up to its neck in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

In fact, 2005 was the Guard’s biggest year over there. It provided the bulk of the Army’s combat force against an enemy of insurgents who didn’t wear uniforms and refused to stand and fight. That chapter of the Guard’s history was already being written in March 2004. Thousands of Guard soldiers in brigades from North Carolina and Georgia to Hawaii were preparing to be mobilized or training to deploy to such deadly places as the Sunni Triangle.

The headquarters of New York’s renowned 42nd Infantry Division was gearing up to take charge of Task Force Liberty in the north-central sector of that distant land. It was the first time since the Korean War 53 years earlier that a Guard division headquarters mobilized for combat operations. Some 22,000 troops, including two active-component Army brigades and two other Guard brigades, would eventually fall under its command.

Other smaller units, including the famed 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, from New York and the 617th Military Police Company from Kentucky, also distinguished themselves in Iraq in 2005 while serving under other Army commands.

For most people, the “surge” in Iraq began in early 2007 when Bush ordered 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster security in Baghdad and Al Anbar Province. But 2005 was the year of the Guard’s surge.

The Army needed the manpower for a number of reasons, primarily because “the pipe dream of an easy war didn’t turn out that way,” recalls retired Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau at that time. “Unfortunately, 2004 wasn’t a good year in Iraq, and much of the active Army was essentially tapped out between that and Afghanistan. The Iraqi insurgency remained very difficult to deal with, and it was clear that we were going to be in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

“To get to the point where it could implement the Army Force Generation and reset some of the active force to put it into a predictable rotation schedule, the Army asked the Guard to assume the bulk of the combat load in Iraq during 2005. We did that to buy the Army time to come up with a plan for a predictable force generation model that included Army Guard forces.”

Army officials had also targeted 2005 to begin transforming their active-component combat brigades into the modular concept. This reorganization turned the units into brigade combat teams.

The Guard had 69,147 soldiers serving in Iraq in March 2005 and, more significantly, at one point that year provided eight of the Army’s 15 combat brigades, noted Lt. Col. Brett Criqui of the Army Guard’s Mobilization and Readiness Division in June 2012. Some of the brigades were waiting to replace other Guard brigades.

Then, in early September, nearly 50,000 Army and Air Guardsmen from every state, territory and the District of Columbia converged on the Gulf Coast in the days after Hurricane Katrina to help countless Americans there who had no food, no water, no power and no homes.

“At a time when the Army Guard was experiencing its finest hour in combat overseas in more than 60 years, it simultaneously experienced its finest hour in domestic operations since the Civil War,” Blum says. “If you were a member of the National Guard in 2005, you have a lot to be proud of.”

It took the Guard considerably longer to ramp up for Iraq than it did for Katrina, but it didn’t take long for Guard combat leaders to figure out what was going on. All told, more than four times as many Army Guard soldiers received OIF orders during fiscal year 2004 than had received them during the previous year, according to statistics furnished by the National Guard Bureau. Something was clearly brewing.

“It’s a changed paradigm,” Richard Stark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told USA Today in December 2004. “We have completely crossed the line in terms of what it is to be a citizen-soldier.”

Boots on the Ground
The change began in October and November 2003 when the 30th Infantry Brigade from North Carolina, the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas and the 81st Armored Brigade from Washington state mobilized. Their tours as part of the second rotation of U.S. forces into Iraq lasted into the spring of 2005, according to a Guard Bureau timeline.

Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade mobilized in January 2004 and New York’s 42nd Division officially began mobilizing and training that May. All told, 13 Guard brigades of between 2,700 and 4,200 soldiers were part of the call-ups from 2003 to 2005, with 12 serving in Iraq at some point in 2005 (Chart, page 26).

“We were originally on track to go to Kosovo prior to the shift in mission to Iraq,” recalls Col. John Andonie, who went to Iraq as the 42nd’s deputy operations officer. “I think we all saw the signs that the Guard would have a prominent part of OIF III [the third rotation of U.S. forces to Iraq] as we saw different Guard units getting mobilized along with us. We knew we were part of something much larger.”

Nicknamed the “Rainbow Division” because it encompassed Guard units from across the country when it was organized for World War I in 1917, the 42nd, commanded in Iraq by Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, included personnel from 29 states. This included the Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade from Idaho, the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment from Tennessee, the 1st and 3rd brigades from the active-component Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, and the Texas Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery.

Bringing all of those units together, including finance, personnel support and civil affairs battalions from the Army Reserve, presented an extraordinary challenge, says Andonie, especially because “we had a lot of units that weren’t used to working with a division headquarters.

“But we certainly had one thing going for us,” the New York officer adds. “We were on a very important mission, and I think everyone was focused on that mission which was to restore stability to that region in Iraq.”

The same could be said for the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 28th Division, from Pennsylvania, the 29th Infantry Brigade from Hawaii, elements of the 32nd Infantry Brigade from Wisconsin, the 56th Brigade from Texas, the 155th Armored Brigade from Mississippi, and the 256th Infantry Brigade from Louisiana, all of which also took up positions in Iraq in 2005. The 1st Infantry Brigade of Minnesota’s 34th Infantry Division was mobilized for OIF in late 2005 but did not deploy until 2006.

Some of the brigades that deployed in 2004 and 2005 did so with many new faces.

The 39th Infantry Brigade, for example, was technically 700 soldiers short when alerted due in large part to the way the Army Guard accounts for new recruits. A recruit in the active component comes to a unit only after he or she has completed basic training and advanced individual training. In the Guard, however, the recruit is part of the unit when the soldier signs up. This meant the brigade had more than 500 soldiers who were considered non-deployable because they had not completed their initial training.

This shortage led unit leaders to consolidate available manning into two infantry battalions and to ask the NGB to provide additional soldiers. The Guard Bureau filled the need by alerting Oregon’s 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, and smaller elements from other states. When it arrived in Iraq, the 39th Infantry Brigade included Guard soldiers from 10 states.

Areas of Responsibility
Most of the brigades functioned as intact formations in Iraq, successfully performing the large-scale “landowner” operations some Army leaders say require too much training for the Guard to perform in the future.

One exception was the 2,700-member Hawaiian brigade that had to coordinate assets from American Samoa, Guam, Saipan and four mainland states, says Col. Kenneth Hara, who commanded an infantry battalion.

The 29th didn’t have its own operational area. The headquarters element provided security for Logistics Support Area Anaconda in Balad,Hara says, but its combat battalions were attached to other units.

It also required many soldiers to fight a different kind of war than they had trained for, acknowledges Lt. Col. Thomas Friloux who deployed with Louisiana’s 256th as an infantry battalion operations officer.

That was a mechanized infantry brigade that had gone through a National Training Center rotation in 2001. Those soldiers had trained for high-intensity conflict against a standing army. Now they were being deployed for low-intensity, counter-insurgency operations, Friloux adds. It was a new mission. The people had acquired a lot of the training that they needed to fight any kind of war. But they had to fine-tune the skills they needed in Iraq.

The Guard troops served in the eastern and most heavily-populated part of Iraq, next to Iran, under Army and Marine divisions, including the 1st Cavalry, the 3rd Infantry, the 2nd Marines and two Marine expeditionary forces.

They were based in many places—in and around Baghdad and its airport, in northern locations such as Kirkuk and As Sulaymaniyah, and in Al Hillah and elsewhere between Baghdad and Kuwait.They faced death every day in the Sunni Triangle.

Besides commanding two of the 3rd Infantry’s brigades, New York’s Rainbow Division assumed control of its sector from the 1st Infantry Division on Feb. 14, 2005, and turned it over to the 101st Airborne in November.

“The significance of being in a lineup with such legendary Army divisions as the Big Red One, the (Rock of the) Marne, and the Screaming Eagles is not lost upon us,” says Taluto. “It has forever added to the esteem of the 42nd’s own history.”

It was demanding, dangerous and dirty duty.

“We knew when we came into theater it was going to be a very volatile situation,” says Andonie. “Enemy incidents or attacks were ranging from 40 to 60 a day. I mean small-arms attacks and IED explosions that would hurt our soldiers and destroy vehicles. … And it was a major issue when we had a sandstorm. ”

The missions included helping to keep the country stable during the high-profile national legislative elections on Jan. 30, rooting out weapons caches, making highways safe for convoys, training Iraqi security forces, and capturing or killing insurgents.

That between 76 and 89 percent of registered voters in Kirkuk, As Sulaymaniyah, Diyala and the Salah Ad Din province turned out to vote is reflected in the 42nd’s after-action report.

So are the following:
-Supervising the completion of 1,400 construction projects worth $757 million and plotting the progress of another 800 projects worth $1.63 billion in the north-central region;
-Helping to expand that region’s Iraqi army forces from one division, four brigades and 14 battalions to two divisions, five brigades and 18 battalions;
-Conducting more than 4,500 raids, nearly half either led by Iraqis or performed by Iraqis on their own;
-Identifying and removing 425 weapons caches; and
-Killing nearly 300 terrorists and capturing 2,000 more, including nine of the division’s most wanted men.

Guard brigade leaders can cite similar accomplishments.

Significant Moments
Though there were many successes, there were also somber moments. The fratricide of two 42nd Division officers with a Claymore mine in Tikrit in June cast a pall over the deployment.

It fell to another Guard battalion, New York’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, to secure the 7½ miles of Route Irish between the Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone from repeated, even suicidal, ambushes that threatened that important commercial corridor.

That required surging soldiers into surrounding neighborhoods to disrupt the attacks, putting up barriers to control the traffic flow, and working with Iraqi special police to screen traffic coming on and off the highway, explains Maj. Sean Flynn, who commanded Company B in 2005 and who became the battalion’s commander earlier this year.

And soldiers from Kentucky’s 617th Military Police Company earned their bones on March 30 when they tore into insurgents who ambushed a supply convoy that the Guard squad was shadowing. Those soldiers, including Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, flanked, attacked and killed 27 enemy personnel, wounded six more and captured one.

Hester, who was 23, became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for exceptional valor, and the first woman to receive that medal for direct combat. Her squad leader, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, received a Distinguished Service Cross, and Spc. Jason Mike also was awarded a Silver Star.

Others were not so fortunate. The spike in Guard numbers brought a corresponding spike in Guard casualties. The year of the Guard surge, 2005, was the Guard‘s deadliest year during the global war on terrorism, according to Defense Department casualty reporting. A total of 183 soldiers died in OIF that year compared to 111 in 2004 and 62 in 2006.

The deadliest single incident, on Jan. 6, killed seven “Black Sheep” from Louisiana’s 256th Brigade, including a Guard medic from New York. A roadside bomb destroyed their Bradley fighting vehicle near Baghdad.

“You felt it in the bottom of your stomach anytime any soldier in the brigade was lost,” Friloux says. “There had been some losses in the task force, but that one was pretty significant. It brought to light the significance of what was going on. It was eye-opening.”

Other units experienced similar days. Two groups of five Pennsylvania Guard soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice on separate dates in August and September. Four from Mississippi were killed on May 23, and four from Georgia died July 30.

Overall, what did the successful surge for OIF III mean for the Guard? Sean Flynn, who has written a book about his battalion’s activities since 9/11, and Blum offer a couple of perspectives.

“I think most people look at the country as pre-9/11 and post-9/11,” says Flynn. “But I think you can really look at the National Guard as pre-OIF III and post-OIF III because that was really the sea change that changed the Guard from its old tiered readiness posture into an operational reserve. When we came out of OIF III, the Guard across the entire nation was a fully operational reserve of the Army.”

Blum says 2005 made Congress realize that the Guard was operating in the post-9/11 environment under mobilization guidelines that had existed since 1903 and that the Guard “was long overdue” for a statutory overhaul.

“The world had changed,” he says, “but the laws that governed the National Guard beyond its constitutional mandate hadn’t changed with it.”

The Guard’s performance in Iraq also fueled the congressional effort to elevate the Guard in the Pentagon, which began in 2008 with elevating the NGB chief to a four-star position and turned the Guard Bureau into a joint activity of the Defense Department. A seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff followed in 2011.

“The Guard,” Blum says, “is now empowered like it’s never been in its history.”

BOB HASKELL is a retired Maine Army National Guard master sergeant and a freelance journalist in Falmouth, Mass. He may be contacted at magazine@ ngaus.org.
VIEW ALL ARTICLES
Message
SEND