By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
The 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team is occupying an area of southern Iraq that until now hasn’t hosted American troops.
The soldiers’ mission is to stop weapons smuggling from Iran to Iraq.
The brigade’s commander, Col. Philip Battaglia, talked about that mission and answered questions from family members during a town hall meeting Friday evening. This is the brigade’s first town hall since its soldiers deployed earlier this summer.
Units like the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment and the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment man areas of the Iraq-Iran border and stop smugglers, Battaglia said. They have seized hundreds of explosively formed projectiles and improvised explosive devices and prevented them from being used in Baghdad. The effort of what those soldiers do is tremendous, Battaglia said.
The mission is one the brigade wasn’t expecting to take on, but like the nature of the Army, the soldiers quickly adapted once they arrived in the Middle East.
Because soldiers are needed at remote locations where military forces haven’t been before, living conditions can be austere. It can be compared to the start of the war in Iraq when soldiers were moving into areas where forward operating bases were just being built.
The difference is that the new bases are being built much more quickly than those five years ago. What took six months now takes 30 days, Battaglia said.
A majority of the brigade’s soldiers are on Camp Adder at Tallil Air Force Base. The brigade has built two forward operating bases, Garryowen and Hunter, that are in the beginning stages of development.
Garryowen is the bigger of the two. It started as a patch of dirt, Battaglia said. Occupied by the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, the base has about 1,000 soldiers. Conditions there improve on a daily basis, Battaglia said, and he told families at the town hall that the soldiers live in temperature-controlled tents, have latrines, showers and a dining facility.
That is a vast improvement from when it was first established. Soldiers lived in tents with no air conditioning and had no shower facilities. Battaglia on Friday addressed concerns from family members who heard reports that the soldiers had to bathe using bottled water they had to carefully ration. Now Garryowen has a large water capacity and showers.
“At Garryowen there is more water than they know what to do with – both bottled and potable,” he said.
Battaglia was also asked about whether food was being rationed at Garryowen and Hunter.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Hunter, which is about 43 miles south of Garryowen, is home to the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, and is the brigade’s newest forward operating base. Work began just 10 days ago and Battaglia said the whole squadron would occupy the base by mid-September. About 80 to 100 soldiers live there now in thick-walled clamshell buildings.
The soldiers get meals in the form of meals ready to eat, or MREs, and hot meals in the form of unified ground rations express, or UGREs. The UGREs come in throwaway boxes and have been a big hit, brigade officials said.
Hunter is expected to receive a kitchen trailer in September and an ice trailer in five days, Battaglia said. A construction engineering unit arrives next month and will begin building housing.
“Right now the soldiers are roughing it,” Battaglia said. “Next week, week and a half, they will be doing all right.”
Mail service to Garryowen and Hunter was one of the hottest topics Battaglia was questioned about at the town hall. Families commented that mail to those locations was taking quite a bit longer than the usual 10 days with which they were familiar.
Because the bases were newer and in their beginning stages, mail delivery is taking longer, Battaglia said. Mail is delivered to those bases by air or convoy and those were dependent on safety and the weather.
Command Sgt. Maj. Edwin Rodriguez, the brigade’s senior noncommissioned officer, said it typically takes eight to 14 days for mail to travel from the states to Camp Adder. From Adder, the mail must be sorted and loaded on transports to the bases. It could be another three or five days before that mail makes it to Garryowen and Hunter, he said.
Battaglia said things are improving and he has addressed the mail issue with soldiers at Garryowen.
A family member in the audience suggested that mailers spend the few extra bucks to make sure their packages are being sent priority instead of parcel post to make up for the lost time.
Battaglia said mail was one of the top priorities after food, water and other critical supplies.
In other town hall news, the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, which is currently in Balad, will move back to the brigade’s area by the end of September. Brigade officials are working with division officials to determine which bases those soldiers will go once they move south.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.