By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Col. Michael Bills' voice was loud and proud Wednesday as he read the accomplishments of his soldiers:
Conducted more than 900 company-level operations and 27,600 combat patrols.
Cleared more than 104,000 kilometers of roads.
Found 1,058 improvised explosive devices, 37 vehicle-borne IEDs and 350 cache sites.
Captured 3,488 and killed more than 147 insurgents.
Reduced the number of attacks in Nineveh Province from 35 to 40 a day to single digits.
It wasn't until he spoke about a specific group of 41 soldiers that his voice quivered. It didn't just quiver, it stopped for a few seconds. Then, the shaky words came back again.
An official moment of silence soon after was enough to recharge Bills, and he continued the speech with the same sturdiness with which he began.
Fort Hood's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment lost 41 soldiers in its 15 months in Northern Iraq's Nineveh Province. The majority of those were from regimental units, the rest from attached units.
Bills spoke about those men and women during an uncasing ceremony Wednesday. The uncasing, during which each squadron's flag was taken out of a protective covering and unrolled, marked the regiment's official return to Fort Hood.
The final flight of soldiers arrived Feb. 6 at Fort Hood. The 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade took over the Nineveh Province from the regiment on Jan. 19.
The nation will always be in debt to the 41 soldiers for their courage, dedication and sacrifice, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, said during the ceremony.
Those losses were not in vain, Bills said.
The troopers made a tremendous difference in the lives of the Iraqi people by lessening violence and helping citizens return to normalcy, he said later.
The regiment recruited 35,000 Iraq Security Forces across the province, doubling the number of Iraqi soldiers, police and border patrol personnel already in place.
The soldiers worked with their Iraqi counterparts as they took back the neighborhoods, Bills said. Iraqi forces led 82 percent of the missions, and citizens saw their own in action.
It's up to the 3rd Brigade to continue with that success, and the violent-free provincial elections were a step in that direction.
The 1st Cavalry soldiers must work with the new officials and partner to rebuild the province's economy, Bills said. The unemployment rate there is 60 percent, the colonel said, and citizens need jobs so they won't resort to setting out roadside bombs for insurgents as a way to make money.
The regiment now enters a "drawn down" phase, Bills said. Soldiers will cycle in and out of units, and go to schools and career courses.
Col. Reginald Allen is set to take over the regiment on April 3, and Bills will go on to serve as director of the Joint Advanced Warfighting School in Norfolk, Va.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.