Everywhere I go people ask me how I have so much confidence the Army is not breaking, and it is because our magnificent Soldiers are not only taking the fight to the enemy every day, but they are reenlisting in large numbers.
Two weeks ago General David Petraeus reenlisted 280 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers in honor of the Division’s 90th Birthday and a few days later I reenlisted 21 Soldiers from one maintenance company.
Last week across all of Task Force Marne there were no casualties – no U.S. Soldiers were wounded and there were no fatalities. We are not about to sing our praises or claim success, but it shows we are moving in the right direction. Our Soldiers are no longer driving to work – they are living amongst the Iraqi people on patrol bases in the towns that need the most help. And because security is improving, our Soldiers can focus on helping to develop capacity – they are working with the local community councils to link them with the higher governance in the province.
The low attack levels are a combination of our Soldiers’ success and the success of the concerned local citizens program. Across the battlefield these concerned citizens are working with us, with each other, with the Iraqi Police, and with the Iraqi Army. And most importantly, they are working across sectarian divides.
In Jurf as Sakhr, a community 25 miles southeast of Baghdad, a Sunni concerned local citizen leader, Sheikh Sabah, works with the Shia Iraqi Police Chief and Iraqi Army company commander every day. Almost every morning the leaders get together to discuss security and how the concerned local citizens can help the Iraqi Security Forces.
When Admiral Fallon, the CENTCOM Commander, came to visit our Soldiers last week, the three leaders sat down with Admiral Fallon and laid out their joint plan for the future. As the Division looks to conduct major operations in an Al Qaeda stronghold near Jurf as Sakhr, Sheikh Sabah is the one showing our Soldiers the insurgent homes and helping the Iraqi Army Soldiers determine where they should construct new checkpoints.
When we got to Iraq last spring, my helicopters were shot at every time I tried to land in Jurf as Sakhr, and the enemy would run up to the patrol base walls and lob grenades over top. The last attack in Jurf as Sakhr was over five months ago; and that is because of this synergy.
And the synergy isn’t just between the concerned citizens, our Soldiers, and the Iraqi Security Forces, but it is also with our Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams who used $15,000 in micro grants to help the Jurf as Sakhr residents open 48 shops. One month ago Jurf as Sakhr had one shop, and now it has 48 shops of everything from a restaurant to clothing to house wares.
Across the Task Force Marne battlefield, we have 19 mixed concerned citizens groups – one fifth of our concerned citizens are working across sectarian lines. And all of the groups, regardless of affiliation, are working with everyone around them for security. Because whether you are Iraqi or whether you are American, you want the violence to stop so that your children and their children never have to experience it.
Rock of the Marne!
Lynch is the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, now deployed in Iraq. Captain Allie Weiskopf Chase contributed to this column.