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3rd Brigade Combat Team Reflects on Mission in Iraq
By Sgt. Joshua R. Ford, 3BCT PAO, 82D ABN DIV
Dec 8, 2007 - 2:42:04 AM
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U.S. Army Capt. Stephen Dobbins of Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Calvary, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division briefs his Soldiers during a mission rehearsal on FOB Warhorse, Iraq on July 12, 2007.on July 12, 2007. (U.S. Air Force Photo By: Senior Airman Steve Czyz)(Released)
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In January 2006 the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was born under the command of Lt. Col. Andrew Poppas and Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Edgar.

They were the first reconnaissance, surveillance and acquisition targeting squadron to be activated in the 82nd Airborne Division and were nearly half the size of an average battalion of 800 Paratroopers.
   
5th Squadron was scheduled to deploy eight months after their activation, giving the squadron and the brigade very little time to learn how to use the new asset effectively and efficiently in a combat environment.
   
In April 2006 the 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., to complete a training rotation in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
   
5th Squadron didn't know it yet, but at Fort Polk one training operation would replicate their whole deployment, said Poppas.
   
On the training ground in Louisiana the squadron took their position to the south staying concealed from the enemy and gathering intelligence, while 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, pushed south from the north clearing everything in their path.
   
5th Squadron is the eyes and ears of the brigade, constantly monitoring the battle field for enemy activity.
   
After being in their hide spots for more than two days 5th Squadron found who they were looking for.  More than 100 opposition force Soldiers were congregated in one area and dug in waiting to defend an attack from the north.
   
The squadron was cut off from supplies and behind enemy lines but that was their job -- to be a self sustaining force for days to weeks at a time while providing intelligence to the brigade.
   
Knowing that reinforcements were far to the north and the squadron was right on top of the enemy they began to maneuver onto enemy targets, pushing the opposition force back into the replica Iraqi village of Madehlsar.

The Paratroopers of 5th Squadron went into the exercise aggressive and the exercise really helped build the mentality of the squadron, said Poppas.

The Paratrooper mentality is one Poppas would say is similar to that of the Spartan soldiers read about in the book Gates of Fire or seen in the movie 300.

The lowest ranking members to the highest ranking shared the same hardships. Everybody fought and knew the mission.  Everyone from the basic infantryman to the cooks and mechanics, and everybody was trained and cross-trained to the same standard, said Edgar.

The exercise prepared the squadron for almost exactly what they would face in Iraq, said Poppas.

After the squadron's success at Fort Polk they returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and continued to prepare for real operations 5th Squadron would face in a real combat zone.

In August 2006 the 5th Squadron arrived to Kuwait and was told they would fall under 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and would operate in Diyala province.

When the squadron first arrived to Diyala, they were responsible for a more than 200-kilometer stretch on the Iraq-Iran border that had not had a U.S. presence in almost a year. They were the smallest unit in the brigade, and they were given the biggest battle space in Diyala, said Maj. Brett Sylvia, executive officer, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Nearly two months later 5th Squadron would get their first taste of intense combat in a series of operations dubbed Turki Bowl from November 2006 to January 2007.

A routine air reconnaissance mission of Turki village and the surrounding area quickly turned into one of the squadron's most successful campaigns.

Paratroopers on the air reconnaissance mission spotted what looked like a container buried in the ground with the opening of the container facing the surface. After spotting the container the reconnaissance team located a suspicious looking vehicle.

The helicopters landed and a team of Paratroopers went to scout the two objectives.

The Paratroopers found more than 150,000 small-arms rounds, 14 rocket-propelled grenades, and 50 mortar rounds in the container. In the truck they found roadside bomb making materials and miscellaneous terrorist documents.
   
The findings were immediately reported to the squadron's headquarters and within an hour the operation was being planned.
   
Sylvia was 5th Squadron's operations officer at the time and was on the reconnaissance mission. Sylvia flew back to the headquarters and in flight was already devising a plan with a map, a pen and blue note cards.
   
The terrain in the Turki area was covered in hills and canals. The canals were up to eight feet deep with roads on either side. This made maneuvering difficult for the Paratroopers.

The canals were where some of the most intense fighting took place because of the cover and concealment it provided for the insurgents, said Edgar.           

"The insurgents fought out of the canals similar to the way trench warfare was fought in World War I," said Poppas.

It was a different enemy the squadron was fighting. It wasn't the "spray and pray" enemy the combat-experienced Paratroopers were used to. The insurgents in the Turki area were disciplined and well trained in tactics and marksmanship and were intentionally targeting squadron leaders, said Sylvia.

"There was somebody running that fight (on the insurgent's side) that knew what they were doing," said Sylvia.

Toward the end of operations in Turki the weather became a huge factor. It was cold, wet, and muddy and the reconnaissance Paratroopers were sleeping in the harsh conditions for days at a time.

Vehicles were constantly getting stuck in the mud on the roads running parallel to the canals. This slowed the squadron down, but they knew the insurgents weren't going anywhere.

"We took a slow and methodical approach to the whole operation," said Poppas.

The squadron knew they had found an insurgent safe haven and training ground and an enemy willing to give their life to defend it, said Poppas.

5th squadron cleared every trench and building, sweeping the area from the north of Turki to the south of the village and used multiple assets attained from other units to help.

Engineers, unmanned aerial vehicles, indirect fire capabilities, and air support were used and for the first time since the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, B-1 Bombers were employed. Two B-1 Bombers dropped 33 2,000-pound bombs on targets around Turki village in less than an hour.

The squadron also used everyone they could in the fight. They used the same mentality they applied during training in the mock village of Madehlsar. Every Paratrooper fought in the Turki Bowl Campaign.

"Guys were fighting to get to the fight," said Poppas.

The area was cleared by the squadron in three months and resulted in 180 killed insurgents, 93 detainees, and hundreds of thousands of small-arms rounds, rockets and mortar rounds seized among an assortment of other weaponry.

"Operation Turki Bowl was the proof of our concept for employment," said Sylvia.

Later in the deployment 5th Squadron would find themselves operating outside of there area of operation on a much bigger battlefield.

The Diyala River Valley harbored hundreds of insurgents, roadside bomb factories, and weapons caches.
   
In the Diyala River Valley the squadron would be put to the test because of their size.  They were stretched very thin across a battlefield covered in palm groves with temperatures reaching up to 140 degrees.
   
Once again 5th Squadron was required to go into an area U.S. forces had not occupied in nearly one year.
   
While in the Diyala River Valley the squadron conducted 18 troop-level operations, established four patrol bases and established 16 Iraqi checkpoints throughout the area.
   
The Paratroopers approached everyday in Iraq as what would that individual do today if he or she had to stay for the remainder of the war.  This mentality brought success everyday, said Sylvia.
   
The squadron found great success at the end of their 15 month deployment. 331 insurgents were killed, 17 were wounded and 198 were detained. Because of the squadron's courageous actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom more than 25 percent of the unit received valorous recognition including one pending Presidential Unit Citation, one pending Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, one pending Silver Star, more than 20 Bronze Stars for valor and more than 60 Army Commendation Medals for valor.
   
Their success came with great sacrifice though. 30 percent of the unit was either killed or injured. 22 Paratroopers were killed in action and 95 Paratroopers were wounded in action. Out of the 80 humvees the squadron had, 30 of them were destroyed.

More than half of 5th Squadron's existence has been spent fighting in Iraq.
   
"This unit may arguably be our most decorated unit to come out of Iraq," said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the founder of the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, as the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division when the squadron activated.
   
"(5th Squadron) reminded me again of the amazing strength of our Army.  We have young men and women who view what they did "as just doing their job", yet they do it so heroically and without question.  Sure makes one proud to be serving with Soldiers like these," said Caldwell.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS:

 
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Timothy Methany of Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Calvary, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division leads his Soldiers during a patrol on the streets on mission in Al Haymer, Iraq on July 12, 2007. (U.S. Air Force Photo By: Senior Airman Steve Czyz)(Released)
U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Yates of Bravo Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Calvary, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division breaches a door during a mission in Al Haymer, Iraq on July 12, 2007. (U.S. Air Force Photo By: Senior Airman Steve Czyz)(Released)

A combined force of Iraqi and U.S. Army Soldiers move from house to house during Operation Hoplite, clearing the town Had Maksar, in the Diyala province, Iraq, Aug. 4. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Ben Fox, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs)

Finding a path in the thick vegetation, Iraqi Army Soldiers from the 5th Iraqi Army Division, and U.S. Soldiers from the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, clear palm groves near the town of Had Maksar, Iraq, a town in the Diyala River Valley, Aug. 5. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Ben Fox, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs)


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