By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
The 1st Cavalry Division's top commander talked about success in Iraq – citing the troop surge and a refocusing of attention on security – but the reason it worked was because of the soldiers.
"We were successful because of our soldiers," Brig. Gen. (promotable) Vincent K. Brooks said at the Central Texas-Fort Hood chapter of the Association of the United States Army's general membership meeting on Wednesday night.
The 1st Cavalry led Multinational Division-Baghdad from late 2006 to late 2007, with all of its soldiers returning from Iraq by February.
Reduced violence and progress was made because the soldiers were willing to go out and find the enemy, Brooks said. During his presentation, he showed videos of 1st Cavalry and Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers who accomplished great feats, some even losing their lives in the progress.
One video featured then-Sgt. Ken Thomas, a soldier in the 1st Brigade Combat Team's 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, who was on a river patrol with American and Iraqi soldiers when they were attacked by insurgents. Thomas led the other soldiers, swimming to shore and climbing the bank, all the while exposed and under fire. They encountered an electrified fence and Thomas cut through it before he laid down fire for the other soldiers so they could reach an area where they were evacuated by air.
Thomas, who is now a staff sergeant, received a Silver Star for his actions. He and his wife attended Wednesday's meeting and received a standing ovation by those in attendance.
"You want to know why it worked?" Brooks asked. "It's because of our soldiers."
The general thanked the chapter and gave the crowd an overview of the deployment and the many successes. In Dec. 2006, there were 440 murders a month in the division's area of operations. By Dec. 2007, that number dropped to 45 a month. In Dec. 2006, 287 people a month were killed by car bombs. A year later, that number sat at 13, a 96 percent decrease, Brooks said. Those wounded by car bombs went from 674 to 43 just 11 months later.
The number of attempts didn't go down, but the effectiveness of the devices was diminished. Soldiers figured out how the insurgent networks – those who planned these operations – worked and took them down, Brooks said.
With increased security, the country's began to thrive again. Markets re-opened, jump starting the economy. That started from the ground level, Brooks said. It was the platoon leaders and sergeants who were on the street, asking shop owners what they needed to open their businesses, he added. The Doura Market went from one open shop in December 2006 to more than 400 by the time the division pulled out of Baghdad.
Brooks said he could tell the crowd about what he saw as the division's deputy commander for support, but to really get the picture, people should ask the troopers.
"Talk to our soldiers," he said. "They'll tell you the rest of the story."
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7547