Tag Archives: 1st Infantry Division

This Month in NCO History: Nov. 10, 2004 — Into the hot zone at the Second Battle of Fallujah

Staff Sgt. David Bellavia was bleary eyed. He had been awake nearly 48 hours, denied sleep by a cacophony of sporadic gunfire aimed at him and his platoon as they made their way through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. He had already seen his sergeant major, company commander and executive officer cut down by enemy fire, forcing him to assume command of A Company, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division.

Now he was feet away from the front door of a house along an abandoned block in the city of 350,000. His Soldiers had searched nine houses along the street looking for six to eight insurgents that intelligence reports suggested were in the area. It was Nov. 10, 2004, Bellavia’s 29th birthday. What he unwrapped upon opening the doors to that 10th house would etch his name into history as a recipient of the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest decoration for valor in combat.

“I have had better birthdays, for sure,” Bellavia told the Military Channel in 2009.

Bellavia’s men were mired in the opening stages of the Second Battle of Fallujah. Also known as Operation Phantom Fury, the operation was a joint effort by American, Iraqi and British forces to drive out the Iraqi insurgency in the city. It began Nov. 7, 2004, and ended more than six weeks later on Dec. 23. The effort was led by the U.S. Marine Corps and was the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war.

The impetus for the battle began in March when four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA were ambushed and killed in Fallujah. U.S. Marine forces launched Operation Vigilant Resolve to take the city back from insurgents. The operation ended in late April with the formation of the Fallujah Brigade, a unit composed of Iraqis, which was charged with keeping insurgents out of the city. But insurgent strength did not wane. On Sept. 24, 2004, a senior U.S. official told ABC News that catching Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be operating in the city, was “the highest priority.”

The insurgents holding Fallujah were formidable. They had interpreters, combat cameramen and were well-trained. But Bellavia’s unit was battle-hardened, too. By the time they arrived on the city’s outskirts, the 1st ID had been in Iraq for 10 months and had been involved in every major battle in the war up to that point. The pair of hard-nosed contingents clashed immediately when the door of that 10th house opened.

“They just opened up on us with belt-fed machine guns,” Bellavia said.

The insurgents were entrenched in a makeshift pillbox under a set of stairs. Bellavia seethed when he heard the anguished screams of his fellow Soldiers as they were wounded.

“I wanted that revenge. I wanted to be that leader that I promised I would be,” he said. “A light switch went off.”

According to his Silver Star citation, Bellavia, armed with an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gun, entered the room where the insurgents were holed up and sprayed it with gunfire, forcing the enemy to take cover and allowing the squad to move into the street. While the Americans took fire from various vantage points inside the house, Bellavia called in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to shell the houses. During a lull in the fire, Bellavia approached the house again and observed an insurgent loading a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Bellavia promptly shot him and charged into the house. A second insurgent fired at him, and Bellavia wounded him in the shoulder. When he entered a bedroom, the wounded insurgent followed, forcing Bellavia to shoot him. When another insurgent began firing from a floor above, Bellavia returned fire and killed him. A fourth insurgent then emerged from a closet in the bedroom, yelling and firing his weapon as he leaped over a bed trying to reach Bellavia. The insurgent tripped and Bellavia wounded him. Bellavia chased the insurgent as he ran upstairs. He followed the wounded insurgent’s bloody footprints to a room on the landing and threw in a fragmentation grenade. Upon entering the room, Bellavia discovered it was filled with propane tanks and plastic explosives. He did not fire his weapon for fear of setting off an explosion and instead engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the insurgent, fatally stabbing him in the neck.

At this point, five members of the platoon entered the house and took control of the first floor. Before they could go room by room clearing the structure, however, they were ordered to move out of the area because close air support had been called in by a nearby unit.

Years later, Bellavia recalled his actions as reactionary.

“It was survivability,” he said. “This is what we were destined to do. In the moment that’s very much rational.”

Bellavia left the service after six years in 2005 as a staff sergeant. He co-founded Vets for Freedom and served as vice chairman. He attended the 2006 State of the Union address as an honored guest. He currently is president of EMPact America, an American energy resiliency organization based in Elma, New York. He is married and has three children.

In 2007, he published a memoir, House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, co-written with John R. Bruning. In September 2010, the book was selected as one of the top five best Iraq War memoirs by journalist Thomas Ricks (author of Fiasco). In 2012, Bellavia signed an agreement with 2012 Oscar-winning producer Rich Middlemas to make his memoir into a major motion picture. Along with the Silver Star, Bellavia also was awarded the Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross. He was also nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Most of the fighting in the Second Battle of Fallujah subsided by Nov. 13. U.S. Marines continued to face isolated resistance from insurgents hidden throughout the city. By Nov. 16, after nine days of fighting, the Marine command described the action as mopping up pockets of resistance. Sporadic fighting continued until Dec. 23. By late January 2005, news reports indicated U.S. combat units were leaving the area, and were assisting the local population in returning to the now heavily-damaged city.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

162nd Infantry Brigade NCOs behind success of Army’s first regionally aligned force unit in Africa

NCO Journal

When six Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division visited Washington, D.C., in late May, they offered Congress insight into one of the Army’s newest strategies from the Soldiers charged with employing it.

During their meeting in the nation’s capital, congressional staff members got to hear in more detail about the regionally aligned forces, or RAF, mission, a strategy initiated by the Army in 2010 to strengthen existing allied and partner relationships. The 2nd BCT, based at Fort Riley, Kan., is the Army’s first RAF unit and was aligned with U.S. Army Africa Command, in which it worked behind the scenes with partner nations while deployed.

In the same vein, the NCOs of the 162nd Infantry Brigade at Fort Polk, La., have worked tirelessly in the background to ensure Soldiers that are part of the RAF mission to Africa — and the other five geographic combatant commands — know all they need to know about a foreign country before they set foot in it.

The African continent has received special emphasis from the 162nd’s Regionally Aligned Forces-Training Teams, or RAF-TTs, as it is viewed as the area with the most potential for volatile situations.

“Right now, that’s the focus,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Baxter, one of four lead instructors for the 162nd’s AFRICOM RAF-TT. “That’s where we want to get our fingers in the most and support. That’s where we see the need. In [U.S. Southern Command], a lot of those countries are a little more advanced and don’t need as much support. Africa, because of colonialism, they’re a little more behind. Certain areas are hotbeds.”

The RAF’s footprint in Africa

The regionally aligned forces project was borne out of the 2010 U.S. National Security Strategy. A regional alignment flags Army units of various sizes to provide support to partner nations. The support is offered in the hope that any given nation’s defense forces can handle security issues without involving U.S. forces.

The opening stages of the RAF plan rolled out during the past two years, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd BCT taking the lead as the first RAF unit to deploy, heading to Africa in spring 2013. The 2nd BCT conducted more than 160 missions during its deployment, highlighted by the establishment of the East Africa Response Force, which is based in Djibouti and works to secure the U.S. embassy in South Sudan.

“Through the conduct of over 160 missions in 30 countries over the past year, we were able to develop the capabilities of our African military partners, empowering them to strengthen and better secure their borders,” said Col. Jeffery D. Broadwater, commander of the 2nd BCT, during his meetings with congressional staff. “More importantly, we developed relationships as representatives of the United States who promoted our nation’s interests and ethics.”

The 2nd BCT concluded its deployment in June 2014 before transferring its RAF duties to the “Big Red One’s” 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Before the 4th BCT’s Soldiers shipped out, much like their 2nd BCT counterparts, they spent time with the NCOs of the 162nd Infantry Brigade to learn about the areas to which they are deploying.

“The idea is that they’re trained on Africa,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell Petry, another of the 162nd’s AFRICOM RAF-TT instructors. “Whether it be culturally, geopolitically, the conflicts in the region that they are potentially deploying to, they’re given that taste of the African continent and their culture, because it’s vastly different from Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially in today’s Army and today’s world where we’ve spent so many years dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of these Soldiers need to learn to downshift and switch gears and focus on a completely different culture.”

Training up

The 162nd is already battle-tested in providing instruction to foreign forces. The unit spent more than a decade training combat advisors and working with their security forces counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan as those countries prepared to take over the job of protecting their own lands. As such, it was a natural fit for the 162nd to evolve into instructors of the Regionally Aligned Forces-Training Team.

When the Army began discussions about the RAF concept, Africa quickly became a focus.

“When we started putting our footprint in the Middle East, it’s kind of like plugging water as far as terrorism goes,” Baxter said. “You block it in one area, and it’s gonna overrun into somewhere else. So you start to see common threats that are starting to spill into Africa and work their way down. You’re starting to see extremist organizations start to filter their way from Egypt all the way down into the southern part of Africa.

“Potentially, you can have a situation where you have another country that doesn’t have a lot of money, a lot of funding. A lot of foreign aid comes in from countries that we’re not in collaboration with, and they start pushing their agenda in those countries. When the infrastructure is really low, and a lot of money starts coming in, a lot of people start leaning that way to survive.”

When the 2nd BCT was tasked, unit leaders realized they weren’t knowledgeable about the culture, customs and conflicts of African countries.

“They were one of the first ones to reach out and say, ‘We need this training. We know that we don’t have this experience or this knowledge yet. So, who can give it to us?’” Petry said. “And the 162nd said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got you.’”

The curriculums that the 162nd’s RAF-TT instructors develop to teach deploying units are largely based on their research of a given country. Instructors receive help from personnel at the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Center of Excellence of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., as well as the NATO School Oberammergau in Germany. But developing a class and its delivery is largely up to instructors. Petry said the challenge to do this seemed immense at first. But RAF-TT instructors have gradually eased into the role.

“Initially when the section first stood up, it was pretty challenging, because we were starting from square one with most of our curriculum,” Petry said. “But it helps that the NCOs in our section are assigned to specific regions. We don’t all focus on the entire continent of Africa. I’m northwest Africa. There are NCOs that focus on the countries in south, eastern and central Africa. It’s a lot of research reading about the countries. We’ve had the opportunity to look at the embassies’ mission strategic resource plan. It’s what their goals are for that country and what they want to accomplish in the next year and near future. So we know how the State Department is looking at it, too.

“It’s a lot of research. I’ve probably read about 50 to 60 books about the countries. As far as curriculum goes, it’s gotten pretty intensive at times. But we’re far enough along that, when a country does come up that we haven’t had a lot of dealing with, it takes some research, but at the same time, the curriculum and tailoring it to that country, is not that hard anymore.”

Behind the success

Broadwater, the 2nd BCT commander who briefed Congress, said one of the highlights of the unit’s deployment was the leader-development missions its junior leaders were able to partake in.

Those opportunities are afforded because the 2nd BCT — and all other RAF units — do not have to deviate from their primary mission attaining current knowledge about the areas they are working in, Petry said.

“This unit has NCOs and officers from across the Army with widely varying experiences,” Petry said. “At the same time, they have a great amount of knowledge on the most recent activities, missions, stuff that has shaped doctrine or has continued to shape doctrine in-country. The 162nd has the ability to train these units as our sole mission focus. If we were to give this mission to a brigade who already has or already is a fully deployable unit that’s told, ‘You’re going to X country on this date and time. Train up. Go,’ in my eyes, it would be very difficult to train for their primary mission and to conduct this mission.

“Our primary focus is training these Soldiers who are going to their combatant command or their area of responsibility to do partner-nation training events. So having that as our primary mission, our sole purpose in life is to make sure that the Soldiers deploying forward have the most current training, the most current knowledge. It’s a lot easier for us to be the ones to conduct that as opposed to a brigade who already has a primary mission. To give them a mission like this, as large as this, as their second/alternate primary, it would be extremely difficult.”

The 2nd BCT has also benefited from working with foreign soldiers who are as dedicated to their military as U.S. forces are.

“Most people serving in the military, especially on the African continent, are very well educated,” Petry said. “They are very proud of their nation, very proud of their cause, very proud of their service. They are there to learn just like us. We have an all-volunteer service. So when you raise your hand to join the military, you do it because you want to, because you’re proud of it, because you want to do something for your family for your country. And in a lot of ways, these countries that we’re going to train with are the exact same way. In a lot of cases, they’re well beyond square one. We’re simply going to exchange ideas. It’s, ‘Here’s our thoughts on it; what are your thoughts on it?’ And it becomes building that doctrine, those TTPs for both militaries at the same time.”

And while RAF missions and training continue moving forward, the work of the 2nd BCT has provided a primer for the Army, Petry said.

“The way it’s looking, the regionally aligned force is the way the Army is going to begin looking at things on the world stage,” he said. “There’s going to be units assigned to a specific geographic combatant command, and when it comes down to something actually happening, something needing to be dealt with, or being asked for assistance, that regionally aligned force for that area is going to be the first one that’s tasked. That’s not to say there won’t be other units that are needed. But that regionally aligned force is going to be the first one told, ‘Let’s go. You guys have already been living and breathing this for the past year, two years or whatever it may be.’

“We have an important mission,” Petry said. “I think we’re in a very good position to provide the training and to take the extra stress off these units who have to actually go and conduct these missions. They don’t have to worry about doing all the training for them at the same time, when they can contact the 162nd and say, ‘We have this mission going in this country, can you support?’ And we have that entire package ready to go and say, ‘Yes. When do you want it?’”

Maj. Joey L. Errington, center right, executive officer of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, responds to a question from a congressional staff member in May in the Rayburn House Office Building. Errington and five other Soldiers from the brigade were on Capitol Hill to share their experiences with Congress as members of the Army's first regionally aligned brigade. (Photo by Maj. Martin L. O'Donnell, Army News Service)
Maj. Joey L. Errington, center right, executive officer of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, responds to a question from a congressional staff member in May in the Rayburn House Office Building. Errington and five other Soldiers from the brigade were on Capitol Hill to share their experiences with Congress as members of the Army’s first regionally aligned brigade. (Photo by Maj. Martin L. O’Donnell, Army News Service)

Army to cut brigades at 10 U.S. bases by 2017

The Army announced Tuesday it is cutting the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33 during the next four years as part of a major force reduction that shifts thousands of Soldiers throughout the country and moves the Army closer to spending cuts outlined by legislation from 2011.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno announced the cuts, which are part of a reduction of force strength from its current level of 541,000 to 490,000 by 2017 to meet the $487 billion in cuts mandated in the budget control act.

The Army had previously identified two brigades in Germany for elimination. On Tuesday, Odierno identified 10 other s throughout the nation that will be dissolved by 2017. He said selections for the brigade cuts were made based on various factors including geography, cost and local economic impacts. Odierno warned further cutbacks could be in the future if full sequestration continues.

A brigade is normally comprised of about 3,500 Soldiers. Some can be as large as 5,000.

While 10 brigades will be eliminated from the Army, some of the components from those brigades will be put into remaining BCTs. In particular, Odierno said, a third maneuver battalion, and additional engineer and fires capabilities will be added to each armor and infantry brigade combat team.

That, Odierno said, will make those remaining BCTs “more lethal, more flexible, and more agile.”

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell said that the changes to the brigades make the remaining BCTs more capable.

“We had the ability to make the brigades more capable,” he said.

Campbell said that some Soldiers will need to move as part of the changes. But for the most part, moves will be from one unit on an installation to another.

“A majority of that will stay on that post,” Campbell said. “But we will have to add some, (in) some places. Some will have to move.”

With the expected cuts in BCTs, the Army will be left with a mix of 12 armored BCTs, 14 infantry BCTs, and seven Stryker BCTs. Those numbers could change in the future. Campbell said he feels confident that the brigades identified already would be the ones to be “reorganized.” But if the Army finds, in the future, that it needs a different mix of brigades than what has already been identified — some existing brigades might instead be changed to meet the new requirements.

Brigades marked for reorganization include:

• The 4th Stryker BCT, 7th Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

• The 3rd Armored BCT, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

• The 4th Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

• The 4th Infantry BCT, 101st Air Assault, Fort Campbell, Ky.

• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.

• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

• The 4th Infantry BCT (Airborne), 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

• The 2nd Armored BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

• The 4th Armored BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

• The 3rd Infantry BCT, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

C. Todd Lopez of the Army News Service contributed to this report.

A closer look at the bases affected by brigade cuts announced Tuesday by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.
A closer look at the bases affected by brigade cuts announced Tuesday by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.