Berm to berm: 2-124th leads the way
Pfc. Lindsey Jones
KUWAIT (Sept. 13, 2010) – There are few chances in the military for Soldiers and units to be part of the beginning and the end of the same war, yet Soldiers of the Florida National Guard’s 2nd battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, have had the opportunity to do just that.
Soldiers from the “Seminole Battalion” deployed to Iraq in 2003 and, seven years later, they are once again deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
n late 2002, the Seminole Soldiers were called upon to go to war, with barely a week’s notice to prepare their families, pack their bags and get their affairs in order before mobilization. It was the day after Christmas when 2-124 received notification to head to Fort Stewart, Ga. By February, the battalion had boots on ground in the Middle East and was awaiting their marching orders, reflected Maj. Jerry Glass, who was the Company C commander then, and is now the battalion’s executive officer.
Company C Soldiers breached the berm on the Iraqi border, March 19, 2003, days before conventional ground troops entered Iraq, allowing the 5th Special Forces Group entry into the country, said Sgt. William Hunter. Hunter was in Company C at the time, and now serves as an assistant squad leader with Company D, 2-124.
“We all just basically went and dug out a path through the berm, to allow all of the vehicles that were going to be a part of the initial invasion to slip over the berm and do it covertly, without a lot of noise,” Hunter recalled.
From there, the Soldiers of Company C eventually moved into the Baghdad Convention Center in downtown Baghdad where they lived in public restrooms, Hunter said.
Soldiers of Companies A and B moved into airplane hangars in Ballad, where they took control of Logistics Support Area Anaconda, said Sgt. 1st Class David Cox, who was a team leader in Company B at the time. When they first arrived, they slept on the ground and later in their tour they moved into tents that had heat and air-conditioning. In the beginning, they had no running water or electricity, eating Meals Ready to Eat three times a day. When a dining facility was finally built, the hotdogs and hamburgers were worth the 45 minute wait, Cox elaborated.
From February 2003 until they left in 2004, Soldiers of 2nd Battalion manned checkpoints, patrolled the streets of Iraq and conducted boat patrols on the Tigris River, as well as protected convoys and senior officials meeting at the convention center in downtown Baghdad.
In stark contrast to the 2002 notification, Seminole Soldiers were given well over a year to make the necessary arrangements for this deployment. The battalion’s role in OIF was drastically different from their first tour in Iraq.
“2-124 conducts convoy security operations in Kuwait and Iraq to ensure the uninterrupted flow of personnel and equipment throughout the Kuwait and Iraq Theater of Operations,” Glass said.
The living conditions have also drastically improved for the Soldiers here. All tents have beds and electricity with air-conditioning and internet capabilities. Soldiers have regular access to dining facilities, as well as a post exchange and alternative food outlets. Communicating back home is much easier and more frequent than it was in the past, Hunter said.
The battalion now escorts sustainment supplies from Kuwait into Iraq and then escorts equipment from Iraq back into Kuwait. They also have one company that escorts personnel and equipment throughout Kuwait.
According to Glass, the sustainment convoys have driven more than 1.2 million miles and, Company A has driven more than 587,000 miles in Kuwait alone. Combined, the battalion has logged more than 1.7 million miles. They have escorted more than 56,000 trucks in and out of Iraq, 340,000 personnel in Kuwait and transported more than 130 million gallons of fuel.
“We have a huge responsibility to take out the large amount of equipment that has been here for years,” said Cox, who is now an operations sergeant with Company B. “Millions of dollars in equipment is being moved out of theater, with the 53rd leading the way.”
“This is the end where we are supporting the drawdown,” said Cox. “We are not on the offensive but we must maintain the same posture because the danger is still out there.”
On Aug. 16, Soldiers from Company A escorted the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Khabari Crossing to Camp Virginia, Kuwait, said Capt. Ryan Swinford, Company A Commander.
“It was great for the Seminole Battalion to be involved in the responsible drawdown of combat troops in Iraq in 2010 since we were the first combat troops into Iraq across the border in 2003,” said Swinford.
According to Glass, participating in two historic deployments as a Seminole Soldier has given him a great sense of pride not only in his role, but also his unit and all of the 2-124 Soldiers involved in the initial invasion and now as key players in the responsible drawdown of combat forces in Iraq, marking the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also stated knowing the battalion’s accomplishments are now written down in history is incredibly gratifying for him.
Seminole Soldiers will not only carry home the sounds, smells and memories they made here, they also take with them a sense of accomplishment as well as pride in themselves and their unit. These Soldiers had the rare opportunity to be a part of history for a second time in seven years and they now lead the way as Operation Iraqi Freedom enters into Operation New Dawn.
“I am truly proud to have had the opportunities to serve my country, state and battalion over the years in support of OIF. It’s been a long, hard war,” said Cox.