Lawton_It has been almost five years since the United States military entered into "Operation Iraqi Freedom." There has been resistance, bloodshed, death and destruction, including suicide bombers, and attacks on civilians. But, there has also been a lot of progress made in rebuilding the war-torn country, including the creation of Iraqi Security Forces.
Monday, 7News got the opportunity to have a conversation, via satellite, with someone in Baghdad from our corner of the world. Major Darrell Gray is part of the Army's Third Infantry Division that are fighting insurgents in the city. Despite much criticism of the additional troop surges in Iraq, the soldiers say it's part of what has turned the tide. They say more of the Iraqi people feel safe - safe enough to help fight insurgents in their own city.
This is the Third Infantry Division, and Major Gray's, third deployment to Iraq, and they say the additional troops are making a difference. "I continually see it everyday as I'm up there briefing the Corps Commander and his staff," says Major Gray. "As far as how things operate in our operating environment, and just the things they continue to do is totally awesome. We're gonna make this thing happen."
Command Sergeant Major Jessie Lee Andrews, Jr. is the Senior Advisor for the division. He says that eleven months ago, they were averaging 25 attacks per day - seven causing death or damage. "Over the course of the last 12 months, since we've been on the ground, as far as the surge forces, we have put a big dent in the insurgent activity," he says. "Today we are only experiencing about 5 attacks a day, or less than 5 attacks day and only one of those attacks are casualty-producing."
Andrews says the additional troops in the country are responsible. "This has kind of engendered a cooperation with the Iraqi people," he says. "We were able to form what we call 'The Sons of Iraq', formally named 'Concerned Local Citizens." Groups of ordinary citizens in the city function similarly to American neighborhood watch programs. "Iraqi people themselves are standing up now and decide to turn against the enemy," he says. "[They're] actually working with coalition forces as well as Iraqi Security Forces providing us with information where the bad guys are located."
To date, the "The Concerned Local Citizens" have turned in over 450 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), keeping them from being used against Iraqi security or coalition forces. Andrews says citizens are feeling safe enough to rebuild shops and schools, now. But, many are still asking how long we will be in Iraq. "Where we need to go from here is to continue what we're doing," Andrews says. "The soldiers are doing a dynamic job out there right now, and we'll continue to take advantage of the momentum we've gained with the surge forces giving us that additional combat power that we needed."
Major Gray is always thinking of his family and congratulates his sister. "To my family there in the Lawton-Fort Sill area, particularly, I have to say something to my sister, Lawton Christian High School class of 2008, congratulations on your graduation this coming May. God bless you all and we'll see you all soon."