Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Photo by Sgt. Robert Woodward, USA.
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus Cites Highs and Lows of Iraqi Deployment
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., March 17, 2004 - Home along with his soldiers after a one-year deployment in Iraq, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air
Assault) called the division's experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom "a roller coaster" of highs and lows.
Since the first elements of the division began leaving their sprawling post that straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border north of Nashville in February 2003, Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus said they experienced amazing high points in Iraq.
Division troops engaged and killed Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, in Mosul, and also captured Asa Hawleri, third in the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam's chain of command. They played a peacekeeping role, presiding over the first elections in post-war Iraq and helping to rebuild the country.
But contrasting these high moments were some tremendous lows, Petraeus said, particularly the loss of 60 division soldiers in Iraq. "There is nothing tougher than the loss of a comrade in arms. There really is not," the general said.
Petraeus said his own personal low of the campaign came the night of Nov. 15, when 17 of his soldiers died in a collision of Black Hawk helicopters.
"The loss of 17 soldiers in one night when two helicopters collided over Mosul was just a blow beyond belief," he said. "It's like losing 17 children. It's almost beyond comprehension -- a terrible, terrible blow to the organization and the individuals in it."
Two months earlier, the division had experienced another devastating tragedy, this one alleged to have been inflicted by one of its own. Sgt. Hasan Akbar allegedly threw a grenade into three tents housing members of the 101st's 1st Brigade Combat Team, killing two officers and wounding 14 others. Akbar's trial is set to begin July 12.
Petraeus said the attack, launched just as the division was preparing to move north into Iraq, could have zapped his soldiers' resolve. Instead, thanks to the "tremendous response" by leaders within the brigade, Petraeus said it served as an inspiration.
"After every death came the question, what would that soldier have wanted us to do?" he said. "And the answer was to ensure that his death was not in vain and to drive on and accomplish the mission."
The morning after the Black Hawk tragedy in Mosul, Petraeus said, a young soldier in the headquarters provided similar inspiration. As he left his morning update session, struggling to think about anything but the loss of 17 soldiers, the soldier grabbed him and said, "Sir, that just gives us 17 more reasons to get this right," Petraeus recalled.
"I drew an awful lot of strength from that particular soldier that morning," he said.
Not all the division's highs and lows in Iraq were so profound, but they, too contributed to the day-to-day roller coaster effect of the deployment, Petraeus said.
In addition to the 101st's successes during the operation - from deploying to the theater in record time to successfully carrying out its warfighter role against a variety of enemy threats - the division's soldiers performed equally well in their peacekeeping role.
After the division blanketed Mosul with four infantry battalions to establish order, soldiers presided over Iraq's first postwar elections last May. Iraqis in Nineveh province elected a provincial council.
Meanwhile, the 101st oversaw the completion of more than 5,000 projects, building or rebuilding more than 500 schools and dozens of medical clinics, opening hundreds of kilometers of roads, reopening Internet cafes and putting an irrigation system back into operation. More than $57 million from Petraeus's commander's emergency reconstruction fund covered the costs.
The people of Mosul are so grateful for the 101st Airborne Division's part in the projects that this week they named a street in the division's honor. "It's wonderful recognition that they appreciate what our soldiers have done for them," Petraeus said.
Yet for every success, Petraeus said, he and his troops struggled with what he called the "man in the moon challenge."
"(The Iraqis) would ask us why we could overthrow Saddam in three weeks and why we could put a man on the moon but we couldn't give them a job right then, right there," he said. "Why we couldn't throw a switch and get the entire electrical infrastructure working again."
Expectations were enormous, he said. "We used to joke that the reward for one good deed in Iraq was a request for 10 more good deeds."
Petraeus said he has "cautious optimism" about the future of Iraq, citing the country's vast oil, water and sulphur reserves, the high education levels among the people, their entrepreneurial spirit and most of all, their willingness to work hard to achieve their goals.
The caution, he said, comes from the various groups and factions now jockeying for power in the new Iraq. "At the end of the day, there has to be a spirit of compromise that prevails to allow the new Iraq to serve the needs and hopes and dreams and aspirations of all Iraqis, not just one of these particular groups," the general said.
Now that the 17,000 soldiers under his command are back at Fort Campbell, Petraeus said he feels good about the role they played in helping overthrow Saddam Hussein and reestablish peace and stability in Iraq.
"It's the greatest privilege that I can possibly imagine to have served in this division and to be blessed with such a team that we have here, at every single level, from the soldier on up to the division staff," he said. "I think our soldiers should be very proud of what they've accomplished in Iraq, and I think all Americans should be very proud of what our soldiers did."
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus stops to pick up a young Iraqi boy when his convoy stopped in Karbala, Iraq, April 6. Photo by Sgt. Jason L. Austin, USA
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., March 17, 2004 — One year ago today, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was at Camp New Jersey, the division's holding area in Kuwait, awaiting orders to move north and cross into Iraq at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Today, with all members of the division's "Screaming Eagles" back here at their home post, division commander Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus credited his soldiers' adaptability to ever-changing situations for ensuring the division's success in Iraq.
"The one overriding lesson out of all of this is that our flexible, adaptable soldiers are the key to everything our division and our Army did in Iraq," Petraeus said.
Throughout their deployment, Petraeus said, his soldiers continually adjusted to the situations that confronted them. "The truth is, no one approach or tactic fits everywhere in Iraq," he said. "Every place is unique, and the situations are all different. And in fact, there is no one unique tactic or approach that even works day in and day out in the same location."
Petraeus said that even in Mosul — the division's Iraqi base from April until last month — his soldiers constantly had to "adapt to the situation, to the enemy, to the resources that we had available."
But Petraeus said that adaptability demonstrated itself even before the division had left its home post. He credited his troops with breaking standard deployment conventions to get 5,000 vehicles, 1,500 shipping containers, 17,000 soldiers and 264 helicopters from Fort Campbell to Kuwait — all within less than six weeks of receiving a formal deployment order. "They made a Herculean effort," he said, even physically joining in the ship loading at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to speed up the process.
Despite intensive training to prepare the division's leaders for a rapid deployment and for the vast railhead, port and airfield improvements since Operation Desert Storm, Petraeus acknowledged the division felt "under the gun" as it prepared to get its equipment in place and possibly face combat "within a very, very short timeline."
With the division in theater and the countdown to war continuing, the pressure intensified, he said. "We had challenges in that our soldiers were still unloading equipment off ships as elements of the division were getting ready to go through the berm (into Iraq)," Petraeus said.
Once the war started, he said, his troops used innovative tactics to confront a variety of different enemies as they moved north — Republic Guard, Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary group fighters and Baath militia. Much of the fighting took place in large, urban areas including Najaf, a city of 600,000 people.
"Although we train for this at the Joint Readiness Training Center and home station, I'll tell you that nothing prepares you to clear a city of 600,000 as your first combat objective," Petraeus said.
He credits his young leaders and soldiers "at the point of decision" who "changed the tactics, techniques and procedures to deal with the threat that we found." Kiowa attack helicopter pilots, for example, flew in front of the U.S. forces, exhibiting what the general called "courage and initiative."
Similarly, Petraeus said the division's Apache pilots adapted to conduct daylight reconnaissance operations, supported by Air Force close-air support, the Army tactical missile system and Air Force jammers, intelligence-gathering systems and command and control systems. The combination, he said, "proved very, very effective in finding and then destroying heavy enemy elements that were on the flank of the 5th Corps advance."
As the division advanced to Baghdad, then Mosul, Petraeus said the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) troops adopted a new role as they began helping the Iraqis rebuild their country. He admits the soldiers' dual roles as warfighters and peacekeepers sometimes appeared to be at odds.
"Oftentimes we felt as if our soldiers had a rifle in one hand and a wrench in the other," Petraeus said. "We were fighting, but we were also rebuilding." He said the young soldiers who regularly patrolled Mosul and interacted with the Iraqi people successfully carried out these dual and seemingly conflicting roles.
"It's an enormous tribute to our young soldiers — the sergeants, lieutenants and captains who were out there every day, interacting with people all day, every day, and their ability to adjust to the situation as they find it," he said.
Now returned with his division to Fort Campbell, Petraeus said the lessons of Operation Iraqi Freedom validate what his former boss, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry "Hugh" Shelton, used to say: "It's people, not equipment. It's quality. Not quantity."
Quantity isn't a bad thing, Petraeus said. "What we would like to have is a huge quantity of very high-quality people with the best equipment money can buy," he said. "But at the end of the day, what is decisive is the people using the equipment — high-quality people."
"And that," he said, "is what we were blessed to have (in Iraq)."
Petraeus said he agrees wholeheartedly with Tom Brokaw, author of "The Greatest Generation," a book about World War II veterans, who called the men and women fighting the war on terror "the next greatest generation."
"I've seen our young soldiers endure tremendous hardship, overcome tremendous challenges, fight a tenacious, determined and even suicidal enemy, and demonstrate incredible innovativeness and compassion," he said. "It's just extraordinary."
Now that they're returned to their home station, as their equipment continues to arrive and before they get back into their full training cycles, Petraeus said he has one more adaptation to ask of his soldiers.
"What we need do right now is to make sure our soldiers get time with their families, and enjoy some of the blessings that this country enjoys that they have been fighting to protect for the past couple of years," he said.
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), gives a "thumbs-up" sign to a soldier while walking alongside a convoy in Iraq. Photo by Sgt. Robert Woodward, USA
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