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2nd HBCT settling into role in Iraq
Troops on advise, assist mission
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Spartan Commander Col. Charles E. Sexton, receives a plaque from Zuhayr Muhsin, mayor of Mosul, following he and his soldiers' presentation of gifts to orphaned Mosul children on Christmas Eve. - photo by Photo by Spc. Crystal Witherspoon
Col. Charles Sexton, commander of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team from Fort Stewart, offered an update on how the brigade’s advise and assist mission is going in Iraq.
Sexton spoke by phone on Monday from Forward Operating Base Marez in the Ninawa Province of Northwest Iraq.
“We’re partnered primarily with Iraqi brigades and divisions,” Sexton said. “We assist on multiple levels.”
Sexton said teams of senior officers work with Iraqi police, Iraqi border security and Iraqi federal security forces to improve cooperation and coordination efforts.
Advise and assist is going well, he said, but there are challenges.
“Ninawa is the size of the state of Massachusetts,” the commander said. “There are 2.2 million people in the province, which is primarily agricultural. There are some large cities. Mosul is the largest and Tal Afar is the next largest in terms of urban population.”
Sexton works with three Iraqi division level commands and the provincial chief of Iraqi police.
“Every day, every night … we have contact with all these different levels of command,” he said.
Coordination efforts, which include assisting and training Iraqis on how to prepare and execute missions, are going smoothly, Sexton said. Iraqis are now better able to “position themselves in a military tactical and logistical sense” to carry out counterinsurgency missions, he said.
“There troops here are doing it all,” Sexton said.
One of the challenges the colonel has experienced since the 2nd Brigade deployed to Iraq last October is training the Iraqi forces in “the realm of logistics.”
Sexton said the 2nd Brigade is helping the Iraqis improve such logistical activity as supplying spare parts for military vehicles, getting fuel from one location to another and getting ammunition to the right place.
He said the Iraqis are well-trained in combat skills, but need to improve their support capabilities.
“We have to understand they’re at war,” Sexton said. “They have no break time. They’re constantly in combat.”
The colonel said it’s not easy for the Iraqis to pull their soldiers out of combat and send them back for training.
“But they’re doing quite well and they’re finding ways to get trained,” he said. “We’re helping them find ways.”
Sexton said the 2nd Brigade is also assisting the Iraqis in preparing for a safe election this March.
“We’re primarily assisting in terms of observation,” he said.
Sexton said the Army observes through its “aerial platforms” and U.S. troops are helping Iraqis plan where to position their soldiers for action “if necessary.”
The colonel said U.S. troops are moving barrier materials to polling places as well, but stressed that American soldiers “will not be directly involved with the elections.”
“We won’t be carrying ballot boxes,” he said.
Sexton said this current tour is his sixth combat tour. He said the 2nd Brigade is scheduled to remain in Iraq until October, and has not heard official word of any troops coming home by Aug. 31.
President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last week, said combat troops could redeploy by summer’s end.
 “Right now, we’re scheduled to be here until October (2010),” Sexton said. “That will be our one-year mark. That’s what we came over with, that’s what we’re planning for.”
The colonel said no soldier would complain about coming home early.
“We all miss our families,” he said.
However, he emphasized the brigade was there to successfully execute its mission until the end of its 12-month deployment.
“These young soldiers are disciplined, trained and focused,” he said. “They are serving in tough conditions.”
Sexton said the nation is blessed “with the young people who are in our armed forces now.”
“These guys and gals are often working 18-20 hours a day,” he said. “It is worth it to do what’s necessary to keep our soldiers alive and to execute the missions we’re doing right now.”
The colonel also said his wife, Melody Sexton, is a “trooper” and is working with Army spouses and families to make the deployment easier for both deployed soldiers and for their families.
“Tell my wife, my Melody, I love her,” the colonel said. Sexton has been married close to 30 years. “She’s still my girlfriend,” he said.
Melody Sexton, who volunteers about 18 hours a day according to her husband, said helping families cope with deployment in turn helps soldiers focus on their missions. If they worry about their families while they’re gone, she said, it could distract soldiers and cause them further stress.
Melody Sexton said studies have found that in addition to stress from combat, soldiers can be strongly impacted by stress from family issues.
This is why the Army has implemented resiliency training for spouses, she said.
“We’re basically single parents when they’re deployed,” Sexton, a mother of two grown children, said.
“The training is now touching on all elements of a person’s well being — mentally and physically — more than ever before,” she said.
Sexton listed Coin and Covenant programs, and the mobilization and deployments classes through Army Community Services as examples. The ACS now offers a “battle-mind” training, she said.
Family readiness groups continue their traditional activities to ease deployment stress, she said, such as sending letters, care packages and video “shout-outs” at Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
“But we’re also doing the Walk to Iraq and Afghanistan and back,” Sexton said.
In addition, social networking on Web sites like Facebook has helped soldiers and families connect with each other during separations, she said, and keeps units’ spouses connected to each other.
“Families want that connection with other family members in the unit — they want to be informed, and not feel isolated,” Sexton said.

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