‘Warrior Brigade’ Soldier witnesses progress over three deployments

| May 18, 2011 | 0 Comments
Staff Sgt. Ray Pelon (standing), personal security detachment team leader, HHB, 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt, 2nd BCT, 25th ID, works with one of his Soldiers on the range during marksmanship training with the M249 squad automatic weapon at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (Courtesy Photo)

Staff Sgt. Ray Pelon (standing), personal security detachment team leader, HHB, 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt, 2nd BCT, 25th ID, works with one of his Soldiers on the range during marksmanship training with the M249 squad automatic weapon at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (Courtesy Photo)

Sgt. David Strayer
109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The ongoing conflict in Iraq‚ starting with Operation Iraqi Freedom, and now concluding with Operation New Dawn‚ has crossed over several calendars, requiring many Soldiers to be mobilized and deployed numerous times.

Staff Sgt. Ray Pelon, a personal security detachment team leader, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, here, has seen the conflict in Iraq in its three most significant stages: the invasion, the surge, and now, OND.

“This is my third deployment to Iraq,” Pelon said. “My first deployment was in 2004, right at the beginning when everything was just starting. It was a lot different then.”

After the successful invasion and dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, coalition forces began the task of establishing security to protect Iraq’s citizens and national borders.

U.S. forces began a mentorship role which transitioned into the present advise, train and assist task of OND.

“In 2004, the operations tempo was very high, and we were always busy,” Pelon said. “I didn’t have a wife and child like I do now; it was a different mindset, it was all about the mission.

“On my second deployment to Iraq, which took place during the troop surge in 2007, the main push was to really start training the Iraqi army and police,” Pelon added. “Since we were starting from scratch, we had to get Iraqi citizens to volunteer, which was an act of bravery in itself.”

The “Warrior Brigade” Soldier noted that among the greatest challenges from his experiences was getting Iraqi Security Forces leaders to understand and embrace the value of the non-commissioned officer corps and leaders at junior levels.

“For the Iraqi army, historically, the higher pay grade officers have always been the only ones with all of the authority and responsibility,” he said.

When U.S. forces displayed the amount of responsibility and authority entrusted to American NCOs and even junior enlisted team leaders, Iraqi officers were surprised, Pelon said.

“It demonstrates to them how professional an Army can be when it empowers and trusts in its leaders at all levels,” he said. “Each time they see our battalion commander with the battalion command sergeant major, essentially making decisions and acting together, as one voice from two people, it sets the example.”

The efforts of past years by Iraqi and U.S. forces culminated in the conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the onset of OND. U.S. forces now operate in strictly support-oriented roles; advising and continuing to train and assist ISF.

“We are not kicking in doors or taking prisoners anymore; those days are over,” said Capt. Paul Flemming, assistant operations officer, 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt., 2nd BCT, now on his second tour to Iraq. “Our whole goal now is to empower the IA through training and guidance, setting them up for success when we leave.”

“Things are a lot slower and deliberate now; we take things step by step, and all of the groundwork for our current advise, train, and assist mission has been laid by the Soldiers who have been here in the past,” Pelon said, who just happens to be one of those Soldiers who contributed to the foundations of OND.

At this point, U.S. Soldiers help make small adjustments or refine skills when asked by Iraqi leaders, but the Iraqi troops are largely self-sufficient, he said.

Continuing to draw from his first-hand accounts of progress made in Iraq, Pelon said throughout the process of forming and training the ISF, the Iraqis who volunteered their service to their country have always been eager to learn and receive training, always growing more confident in their abilities and their leadership.

Relatively few Americans enter the military in service of their country, and of those, Soldiers with multiple deployments are fewer. Pelon said he feels fortunate to be among that group.

“I really think that I am lucky. The biggest thing I take away from my experience of my three deployments is gratification,” Pelon said. “I played a part in something a lot bigger than myself, and was able to see it at all of its most crucial moments. It is gratifying to see the progress Iraq has made and know that we are about to complete our mission here.”

(Editor’s Note: This is a Hawaii Army Weekly web exclusive.)

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Category: Deployed Forces, News

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