- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

SAVANNAH, Ga. — More than 18 months after leading the assault on Baghdad, the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division is preparing to head back to Iraq.

“The last time the mission we had was a high-intensity conflict; we were going in to take out a corrupt regime” said Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone, spokesman for the division.

Col. Whetstone said the upcoming mission includes conducting combat operations while emphasizing stability, humanitarian support, peacekeeping and reconstruction.

The soldiers spent this week inspecting cargo and preparing to load vehicles here at Fort Stewart, the division’s home post. The preparations, which include verifying vehicle identification numbers and documentation, are a key step prior to shipping thousands of Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, tanks and other armored vehicles to the Persian Gulf region.

Army Spc. Timothy Kiefer said he is not looking forward to leaving his wife in Savannah, but added that he is ready for the mission. As a veteran of the assault on Baghdad, Spc. Kiefer remembers the rapid-fire journey to the city as “a lot of driving, a lot of moving until we got up and occupied Baghdad, where it was more of guard duty and police action.”

In a matter of days, the 3rd Division made history by racing across the desert from southern Iraq to liberate Baghdad. Members of the division smile fondly when referring to these “thunder-runs,” a term used to describe the rapid attack.

Many also remember their fallen comrades and say the assault on Baghdad involved a lot more combat than it might have seemed to those watching on TV, such as the tank battle against the Medina Unit of the Republican Guard, which was one of Saddam’s more elite units.

Soldiers from the 3rd Division were awarded more than 250 Purple Hearts, according to division officials. About half of the soldiers in the 28,000-strong 3rd Division, called “Rock of the Marne,” participated in the March battle, officials said.

Asked about the recent close-quarter engagements and street-to-street fighting in Fallujah, division officials acknowledge that despite much progress in Iraq, there is still a deadly threat posed by the remaining insurgents.

Col. Clifford Kent said, however, that the division has prepared aggressively, adding, “They will be ready for any mission, including those involving tanks, mechanized infantry or urban combat. They have been through a demanding training cycle.”

Once deployed, the 3rd Division will be the first to head out after beginning its modernization or “modular-design” program. The effort is a broad, long-term program to transform the Army from its system of divisions into smaller, more-mobile brigades.

The idea of the reorganization, military officials explained, is to recognize the demands of the 360-degree battlefield and be able to fight self-sustained battles more quickly. The brigades or “units of action” will be assembled in the same way that they will have to fight when deployed in a combat zone. Each “unit of action” will have its own medics, air supply, artillery and engineers.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Rodney said reorganized units will be “a team all the time, composed as they are deployed.”

And 3rd Division officials said the transformation is strengthening their sense of team, explaining that soldiers in the unit are bonded to one another by sight and mission, if not by name.

Although the exact departure time for the 3rd Division and its mission in Iraq will not be disclosed for security reasons, the soldiers say they are ready.

“I got all my issues in order, so my wife didn’t have to worry about too much while I’m gone,” Sgt. Scott Dougherty said.

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