While all of those actions are extremely significant in their own way, the one that should have the most long-term positive impact is the fact that the 5th Iraqi Army Division took full control of a battle space. What does that mean to you and me? That means that they are operating completely independent of Coalition Forces. That means that our troops were able to shift boundaries and areas of responsibility in order to focus more attention on other troubled areas. That means that these Iraqi Soldiers are taking care of their own people, their own towns and their own streets. This means there is a lesser requirement for Coalition Forces in that part of Iraq. Most importantly – that means that the process is working. This Iraqi unit is the first to take full responsibility for a battle space. As Fort Campbell neighbors, you can take great pride in knowing that the Soldiers of Task Force Band of Brothers have had a very large role in mentoring, shaping and validating this Iraqi Army unit in preparation for this mission.
This past week, our first flight of redeployers departed Iraq and returned to Fort Campbell. The push toward home has begun in full swing. We have begun receiving our replacements. One of the brigades, serving in Task Force Band of Brothers, is returning to its home base in Alaska. Can you imagine the major climate change for those guys? Over the next month, two of our Fort Campbell based brigades will transfer authority to their replacements and begin the trip home. A third Fort Campbell brigade will leave theater without Coalition replacements thanks to the fact that the 5th Iraqi Army is able to operate independently. As more Iraqi Army Divisions come on line and are ready to control their own area, more Coalition units will return home having been replaced by Iraqi Army forces rather than Coalition forces.
July 4th came and went while here in Iraq. Our fireworks for this year were shown on the movie screen here at Forward Operating Base Speicher. This holiday was much like the many other holidays that we have experienced while here with one exception, there are very few holidays left for Screaming Eagles to spend in Iraq. My wife and daughter were fortunate enough to get to spend the Independence Day holiday on the beach at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. That actually made me pretty happy. Things like that are what being an American are about. This is not my first Independence Day spent away from home. In 1998 I was in Korea on July 4th. This is however my first July 4th in a combat zone. That is also what being an American is about. More than two centuries ago people were dying for freedom. Their spirit and resolve is what led to the birth of the greatest Country in the world. The men and women who have followed them are what ensure we can continue to celebrate the birthday of the greatest Country in the world.
Lastly, I want to say Happy Anniversary to my wife, Annemarie. We have been married for 12 years on 8 July. Of those 12, I think we have been together for only four or five anniversaries due to military obligations, some hers but most my own. I think I am the luckiest man in the world to have her, I am truly grateful for her and I am truly in love with her.