Combat operations may be over, but Fort Carson’s work in Iraq continues.
As the last U.S. combat troops withdrew from Baghdad early today, soldiers in the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division were among the roughly 50,000 military personnel to remain behind to serve an “advise and assist” role.
Their mission is to continue preparing Iraqi security forces for the day they will be solely responsible for protecting their homeland.
The 3,800-soldier unit deployed to southern Iraq in March, its fourth tour in seven years. But the first three involved hard fighting. This one is strictly training.
“We like to think of it as putting a bow on top,” then-brigade spokesman Lt. Col. Rich Stebbins said before the brigade left.
The United States’ noncombat mission is expected to last through 2011. The 3rd Brigade will complete its yearlong tour in the spring. Fort Carson’s 4th Infantry Division Headquarters and its commander, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, are set to deploy to Iraq later this year to assume command functions.
Although Fort Carson’s mission in Iraq remains, today’s milestone will likely be looked upon as a grim reminder of war’s toll.
Since the post’s first soldiers left for service in 2003, the community has reeled from scores of reminders of local sacrifices — through media accounts of every death and somber memorial service at Fort Carson.
Two hundred and fifty-six Fort Carson soldiers have died in Iraq. An additional 50 have died in Afghanistan.
The timeline for withdrawing U.S. combat troops was already in place by the time the 3rd Brigade deployed in March, bound for a four-province area of southern Iraq, including Al Basrah.
In an earlier sign of the continuing drawdown, the brigade’s soldiers fanned out across an area previously held by two full brigades.
“Our ability to absorb more battle space and focus more on training our Iraqi counterparts and working with the Iraqi government is a sign of progress and a testament to the progress being made in theater,” Col. James Rainey, the 3rd Brigade commander, said before deploying.
Nearly half the 3,800 soldiers completed a previous 15-month tour that ended in February 2009, and many have served multiple tours.
Two Fort Carson units are in Afghanistan, both in the southern Kandahar province. Five hundred soldiers from the 43rd Sustainment Brigade deployed last spring, with the mission of providing food, supplies, maintenance and transportation to troops on the front lines. The 3,800-soldier 1st Brigade Combat Team deployed last month to shape Afghan police and military into an effective force.