FORT IRWIN, Calif.– As the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade prepares for its fourth deployment to Iraq, its Soldiers are getting lessons in the art of leading from behind as they help to set the stage for the eventual drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq.
The “Raider Brigade” was part of the initial U.S. invasion into Iraq, and returned for two more deployments, in 2005 and 2007. Now, Col. Roger Cloutier, the brigade commander, calls it fitting that his Soldiers will serve as one of four new “advise-and-assist” brigades tailored specifically to support Iraqi security forces.
Cloutier spoke to American Forces Press Service about the new mission last week as his troops wrapped up their month-long rehearsal exercise at the National Training Center here. The rotation was their last major training before they deploy next month to assume a role unlike any they’ve had before in Iraq.
“This rotation was less about 1st Brigade, 3rd ID, going out and doing the combat missions, and more about us advising and assisting our Iraqi partners in doing that,” Cloutier explained.
“Our mission is by, with and through our Iraqi partners. They clearly have the lead,” he said. “So the rotation here was focused on that,” with training operations and scenarios focused on helping the Soldiers learn how to provide support as required without taking charge.
To Cloutier, the new mission recognizes major strides made by the Iraqi security forces. “This will be my fourth deployment to Iraq, and each time I have seen the [Iraqi security forces] get stronger and more capable,” he said. “So at least in my mind, it is a natural progression.”
So during the NTC rotation, the Iraqis – portrayed by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, NTC’s permanent opposing force – took the lead in planning and carrying out every operation. During two out-of-sector operations, one at battalion level and one at brigade level, the Iraqi security forces led the planning, with concept development support from the U.S. stability transition teams.
“They did the fighting, and they cordoned off the town and went inside and did most of the clearing,” Cloutier said of the Iraqi forces role players.
The 11th ACR “Black Horse Regiment” welcomed its new and more active role leading counterinsurgency missions. Lt. Col. Scott Coulson, the 11th ACR deputy commander, said his Soldiers reflected the growing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, while applying the wealth of expertise they’ve gained during their own Iraq deployment as well as preparing multiple Army brigades for deployments.
“We want to show [the rotational brigade] what right looks like. We want to show them the best … urban dismounted operations at platoon level they have ever seen in their military careers,” Coulson said. “And our guys are gaining more and more urban, small-unit combat experience, and they get better and better at it.”
Meanwhile, 1st Brigade Soldiers played a supporting role, providing the “Iraqi forces” attack aviation, artillery, intelligence and other enabling capabilities, as required, while mentoring from behind.
The mission gave the Raider Brigade a sense of what it feels like to pass the lead responsibility and accept the outcome. “The biggest difference is [the Iraqis] are now clearly in the lead, and they have the final say in what does and does not happen,” Cloutier said.
Col. Ted Martin, chief of NTC’s operations group, said training scenarios are geared to help the advise-and-assist brigades apply new skills to the Iraq mission.
“Not only do they have to do their own survival mission to prevail on the battlefield, but they have to do it by, with and through the Iraqis, with the Iraqis in the lead,” he said.
“In the olden days, the U.S. Army would sit around the table, figure out what we want to do, and then launch a unilateral attack to get it done — or a search, or a recon, or you name it,” he said. “Now, we have to have Iraqi buy-in. They have to understand what the problem is, and then agree to the method to solve it. That’s the tough nut they have to crack out there.”
But as the brigade rotations progress, Martin said, he’s gratified to see how the process unfolds. “Most of the time, units come in here without a lot of practice or experience doing this, but they get multiple repetitions at it here,” he said. “On day one, they are going to try to push everybody out of the way. On day 14, they will socialize the plan and come to an agreement. It’s interesting to watch this evolution happen.”
Cloutier credited a recent mission, in which 1st Brigade spent 12 months as the first active-duty unit dedicated to supporting U.S. civilian authorities in the event of a homeland nuclear, biological or chemical attack, with helping to lay groundwork for its upcoming deployment. The Raider Brigade played a support role to U.S. civilian authorities as part of the Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear or High-Yield Explosive Consequence Management Force.
“So we came in here understanding that construct,” Cloutier said. “It is really the same mindset.”
The brigade’s advise-and-assist mission puts increased emphasis on relationships – with Iraqi security forces, mayors, governors, police chiefs, tribal sheiks and everyday citizens.
“It’s all about the relationship,” Cloutier said. “Every day, you have to earn the right to be heard, and you have to have enough credibility with your Iraqi counterparts
that they want to listen.”
That’s a whole new way of doing business, he conceded, especially for Soldiers who’ve operated at the tip of the sword during multiple past deployments.
“You are used to developing your own plans and going out and getting after the enemy, but that is not your role any more,” Cloutier said. “You are here to assist the Iraqi security forces, so it does take a mental shift.”
The new mission required some concrete changes, too, as the brigade realigned some of its combat power to support security transition teams. The NTC rotation gave the 1st Brigade an opportunity to adjust to the new roles and the responsibilities those roles entail.
“It takes some getting used to: How do you do that? Who talks to whom? And how does information flow?” Cloutier said. “Those are all things we had to work through.”
He welcomed the opportunity to iron out the kinks in a training environment.
“Were there points of friction? Absolutely,” he said. “Did we work through them? Absolutely. Better to do it here than on the ground in Iraq. And that is what makes NTC so valuable. You are able to learn from your mistakes here and figure out where your weaknesses are and train on them.”
Cloutier said he’s leaving the National Training Center “with an extreme sense of confidence in our Soldiers’ ability to get the mission done.”
Spc. Daniel Fyne and Pvt. Reinaldo Gonzalez, both 1st Brigade Soldiers about to deploy for the first time, said they recognize their upcoming mission as an important step toward helping the Iraqis take full security responsibility for their country.
“It feels pretty good, just to be there, closing down things and letting them take control,” Fyne said. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
“They are savvy. They get it,” Cloutier said of his Soldiers. “They understand that it is not about us any more. It’s a step toward the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces.”
Cloutier praised his troops for the role they will play in helping to bring the U.S. mission in Iraq to a close. “They don’t want to read about history,” he said. “They want to be part of history.”