By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
Finish strong and remain focused.
Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team will soon wrap up the 13th month of their 15-month deployment, but it is more important now than ever to maintain discipline, Col. Paul Funk said Tuesday from Iraq.
Troopers must maintain an iron discipline, he said, because Iraq is still a dangerous place, and they still have a mission to do.
Funk has seen a big change since the brigade arrived in Baghdad in October 2006.
There has been focus away from combat operations toward reconstruction. Fighting has given way to work within the provinces by an embedded team made up of everyone from a State Department career foreign services officer to a veterinarian from the Army Reserve to a Navy captain specializing in economic development.
Soldiers are providing safety for government officials to move forward.
Funk supervises the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, which works with American and Iraqi troops to help the area progress.
In January and February, the soldiers saw about 150 attacks per week, Funk said. Last week, there were just seven. This progress doesn't just improve the attitude of Iraqi citizens, but of the soldiers as well. American soldiers can see a change in the markets and towns. Residents smile and approach soldiers now that they realize they are there to help rather than occupy, Funk said. Soldiers of the 1st Brigade interact with the Iraqi people every day, he added.
The team and soldiers also work with three brigades of Iraqi troops who are attached to the brigade. This totals almost 9,000 Iraqis who are fully partnered with the American troops.
The 1st Brigade soldiers don't live on large forward operating bases, but combat outposts and joint security stations throughout the 375 square miles of their area of operations.
Living among the people is absolutely a major factor in the success the brigade has seen, Funk said. It is bringing them closer to their goal of providing a safe, secure and stable environment for the citizens.
"And we have done that," Funk said.
The brigade is expected to begin returning home at the beginning of the year. Troopers from the division's Special Troops Battalion, 15th Sustainment Brigade and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade are already trickling back to Central Texas and 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers are expected to start arriving soon.
Morale is high among soldiers, Funk said, and they are excited and ready to return home to their loved ones. Though Funk has a busy job of running a brigade, he still takes time to keep up with what is happening at home. His son, Matt, plays for Killeen High School's football team, and the colonel gets up every Saturday at 3 a.m. to listen to Internet broadcasts of the games.
Matt, who is a kicker, is one of several nominees for the Herald's Player of the Week and Funk said that even though he's thousands of miles away, he's started a campaign for his son.
"Go, Roos!" the colonel exclaimed from Iraq.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7547