For Fort Carson soldiers in Iraq, 'our mission has not changed'

LANCE BENZEL Updated: August 19, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: August 19, 2010

In a matter of days, the seven-year-old Iraq war will officially have a new name: Operation New Dawn.

At Fort Carson, however, the new day brings few changes.

In a news conference on post Thursday, representatives of the 4th Infantry Division discussed the future of Fort Carson’s infantry soldiers, saying that current and scheduled deployments will resume as planned.

“Our mission has not changed,” Maj. Joe Bethel of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team said.

Nor have the unit’s timelines.

The 3,800-soldier 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which left in March, will complete its yearlong deployment in southern Iraq.

The unit saw heavy combat during three previous deployments, but this time it was sent with the mission of assisting Iraqi security forces, provincial reconstruction teams, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.

The so-called “advise and assist role” is now the main focus of the effort in Iraq, according to the Defense Department.

“Their hard work is vital to supporting Iraqis,” said 4th Infantry Division spokesman Capt. Chad Ashe.

In October, Fort Carson commander Maj. Gen. David Perkins and the 800-soldier 4th Infantry Division Headquarters will also head to Iraq, to assume command responsibilities over soldiers in noncombat supporting roles.

Thursday’s news conference was called to clarify Fort Carson’s role in Iraq in the wake of the Defense Department’s announcement that the last remaining combat troops had withdrawn from Iraq. The Defense Department will retire the name Operation Iraqi Freedom on Sept. 1 and resume under Operation New Dawn, which it calls a reflection of the war’s changing focus and the continued troop drawdown.

Although “combat operations” are no longer planned, Army officials said they are under no illusion their soldiers are out of harm’s way.

“Of course Iraq is a dangerous place,” Bethel said. “We have not and will never give up our right to self-defense, so we do have proper security and we have the proper posture to handle any security issues that may come up.”

Bethel said soldiers in the 3rd Brigade — among the first soldiers in Iraq — are in a unique position to gauge progress in the war-battered country.

“From the beginning ... all the way to Operation New Dawn, the 3rd Brigade is going to leave a stamp and a mark, hopefully positive, on the Iraqi people as we leave (the) country,” he said.

Call the writer at 636-0366.

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