As Soldiers depart Baghdad, part of the last combat brigade in Iraq, they are leaving a country that has gone through many stages to be where it is today.
Two Soldiers -- now part of 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, -- have each deployed during three key periods in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They reflected on the many changes they have seen in the Iraqi population and country as a whole during their time in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Pankey and Staff Sgt. Peter Faul both deployed during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. They deployed again with the 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div., in 2007 -- during the surge. They are now leaving Iraq -- after their third deployment -- with the only combat element left in theater.
During their most recent tour of Iraq, Soldiers of the 4th SBCT have supported U.S. Division-Center area of operations in and around Baghdad for the past year, assisting, training and advising the Iraqi Security Forces.
"I have seen massive changes in Iraq since 2003," said Pankey, a platoon sergeant with Company B, 702nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div. "During the invasion, it was utter chaos, really. As the war progressed, the locals grew angry at the fact the power wasn't restored quite as fast as expected, and the insurgents saw that as an opportunity to turn the people against us."
Faul, a fire support noncommissioned officer with Company F, 52nd Infantry Battalion, 4th SBCT, 2nd Inf. Div., has spent part of every year in Iraq since the beginning of the war, and shares similar memories of Iraq.
"During 2003, it was interesting," said Faul, who was just 20 years old during his first deployment. "I saw the beginning of the Iraqi Army, the Iraq Police forces and the Iraq Civil Defense Corps. The unit I was with was constantly interacting with the people in the local villages. We had a lot of key leader engagements with the village elders to build relationships with them."
Both men returned from the initial invasion and deployed again in 2007, as part of the U.S. troop surge. Pankey and Faul both said they did not see a huge change between Iraq security forces between 2003 and 2007.
"We worked a lot with the IA and IPs in 2007, and we really didn't have a lot of trust (between the American Soldiers and the Iraqi forces)," Pankey said. "We didn't have a good working relationship with those personnel."
He said it was the clash of cultures and ideologies, at first, which caused the mistrust.
"No one can expect two countries with two totally different histories to just come together right away and work together," Pankey said. "We had to find that niche where we come together."
Because of the surge, the Iraqis began to slowly show they were building their forces, taking examples from the American Soldiers around them, Faul said.
"I think what really started the turnaround was the surge and putting more American troops out there to really secure the areas for the Iraqi civilian populous," Faul said. "That just led to a chain reaction. Being out there, patrolling with them and getting to know the public set the mission free and encouraged the IA and the government to start taking their own actions toward taking over their own country."
Throughout the years Faul has spent in Iraq, he said he never thought Iraq would be where it is today.
"In talking with the local citizens during my first deployment, I remember specifically most people saw us as a liberating army," he said. "This many years later, we do not get the same feeling from the local populous. A lot of the locals are ready to handle their country and a lot of us are ready to go home. The Iraqis have taken the lead and the local citizens are very adamant about taking back their country the right way, through law and order."
As U.S. forces drawdown, with the final brigade combat team leaving theater, there are lasting impression-both on the American Soldiers and the Iraqi forces who are gaining back their country.
"(The American Soldiers) have left a very good impression on our counterparts, especially with the local populous," Pankey said. "We've really worked with them out in the civilian population, helping them go out and get jobs. I think that's been a great help in making a positive impact on this nation."
Article by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson, 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment