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By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2008 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro has made remarkable strides in his recovery in the three years and 102 surgeries since he and his team were ambushed by the Taliban in the mountains near Qalat, Afghanistan. His fight to survive started on that mountain, where he refused to leave his 3-year-old son fatherless. He'd lost his father early in life and vowed his son wouldn't know what that was like. [caption id="attachment_3042" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_wounded_airman_lives_for_01_14_09 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro works out at the Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, fitness center. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo[/caption] The fight intensified when he woke up in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. "They told me I was going to be in the hospital for another year, that I may or may not walk again, [and] that I was going to be stuck on a respirator for the rest of my life," Del Toro said. "I sat there for a few seconds and came back with, €˜You can kiss my ass,'" he said.The fight intensified when he woke up in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Del Toro was part of Tactical Air Command and Control, Detachment 1, 4th Air Support Operation Squadron, when he was deployed in December 2005 to Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan, in support of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was part of a scout team sent to investigate intelligence that the Taliban, including a high-value target, was using a supply route in the mountains near the southeastern city of Qalat. A couple of days into the mission, an interpreter picked up chatter indicating that the Taliban were observing the unit's every move. "The Taliban were talking about €¦ that they could see us when we leave out of the compound, that they see us when we come back in," Del Toro said. "They saw us if we left with the motorcycles, if we were leaving with the trucks." Del Toro's lieutenant decided to take half a scout team and try to catch the Taliban at their own game. Five members of the 10-man team would head up the mountain after dark and try to catch the Taliban members as they returned the following morning. The rest, including Del Toro and the lieutenant, would provide overwatch from another vantage point. When a couple of days passed with no action, the lieutenant decided his team would head into the town at the foot of the mountain. There wasn't much in the town, but a suspicious man going up the mountain drew their attention and the five-man team began to follow. Del Toro told his lieutenant that he could take the shot, but the officer wanted to capture the suspect. "I told him, €˜Sir, these guys are like goats here in Afghanistan. They can be in flip-flops. They can be barefoot. [But] they run up these mountains like gods.'" The lieutenant still wanted to capture the man, however, but as Del Toro had predicted, the man escaped, leaving the team to traverse the one road that led up and down the mountain. Del Toro's group was on its way to pick the rest of their team on top of the mountain when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb just after passing a creek. "They always say your life flashes in front of you. I never believed it, but it's kind of true," he said. "I just thought of my family, my son; what we were supposed to do. We were living in Italy at the time. We were going to Greece. I was going to teach my boy how to play ball." When Del Toro got out of the vehicle, he was on fire from head to toe. "I knew that creek was behind me," he said. "But the flames overtook me, and I collapsed. I did think I was going to die there." His comrades weren't about to let that happen, though. The lieutenant helped him up, and they both jumped in the creek. Both the primary and secondary radios had been destroyed in the blast, making it impossible to call in air support for the team on top of the mountain that was caught in crossfire. An Army private with a radio became Del Toro's mouthpiece. "He's repeating everything I'm telling him," said Del Toro, who, as a joint terminal attack controller, normally would have made the call. "He eventually gets a hold of Lagman, and they say, €˜Hey, tell Gunslinger [Del Toro's call sign] he has A-10s and British airs coming in." That was the last action Del Toro took that day. After the trauma of the blast, the third-degree burns covering 80 percent of his body, and the frigid dip in the creek, his body began to shut down. His brothers in arms knew how to keep him going, though. "They knew that I had lost my dad when I was young, and how I said I would never let that happen to my son," he said. "They used that to keep me [awake]." Del Toro remembers being loaded onto the helicopter that arrived after about 20 minutes. He remembers getting to the field hospital, where the doctor cut off his watch and told him he'd be OK. And that's all he remembers about that day. That was December 2005. He woke up in March 2006. Losing four months of his life was surreal, he said. "Sometimes I'll try and concentrate and see if I can remember anything," he said. "But I'm not even sure if they're memories, or hallucinations or dreams." Del Toro did not get much time to dwell on his lost time. He had bigger demons to slay in recovering. First, there was the news that he may not walk again and that he'd be on a respirator the rest of his life. In an act of defiance, Del Toro left the ICU at the end of April. A month later, he walked out of the hospital, breathing on his own. Despite all he'd gone through, Del Toro said, he never once wished that he'd died. Still, his biggest personal fear later made that thought race through his mind in what he described as a "real dark hour." "When you're as badly burned as I was, they ease you into seeing your face," he said. "There was one day where my wife and my therapist - he was my guardian angel €“ were helping me to the bathroom. "I don't know if it was my wife or my therapist €¦ [who] slipped and fell and pulled the towel off the mirror, [but] I saw my face in there and I broke down," he said. "I just wished I died at that point." It had nothing to do with being vain, and everything to do with his son and how he would react to his father's appearance, he said. "I was like, €˜My God, if I think I'm a monster, what's my 3-year-old son going to think?'" he said. Just as his therapist had assured him, however, Israel Del Toro Jr., after a brief hesitation, gave his dad a big hug when he heard his voice. Del Toro, who hopes to remain on active duty, has had several speaking engagements since becoming an outpatient. "I'm still an NCO in the Air Force. I've still got a job to do," he said. "Just because I got hurt, if I use that as an excuse not to go my job, I think that's a copout." Del Toro has accepted that when he's finished with his recovery - he estimates he's got another 10 to 15 surgeries remaining - he won't be able to return to the field as an operator. Instead, he said, he would like to become an instructor. It's the attitude one would expect from someone who, until questioned about their whereabouts, didn't know where his medals were. His Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal, which he received in a June 24, 2006, ceremony, along with the Bronze Star he received for actions in Iraq, were in a box in a closet. "For me, my medals aren't a big thing," the 12-year Air Force veteran said. "I went there to do my job. I saved some guys. I came back. I didn't expect to be rewarded for it." Del Toro, a Chicago native, and his wife, Carmen, live near Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill Special to American Forces Press Service CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 5, 2008 [caption id="attachment_3047" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_medal__recipient__01_12_09 Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein, who is on his third deployment to Iraq, serves with the Kentucky National Guard's 223rd Military Police Company, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Nein was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader with the 617th Military Police Company during an ambush on March 20, 2005. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill[/caption] Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein didn't have to come back here. He served in Iraq twice before and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader under fire. If anyone could have gotten a pass, it was Nein. But he wouldn't take it. "I probably didn't have to be here this time, but I don't think that I would have missed it," Nein said. "I feel honored to be a part of this."Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Nein didn't have to come back here. He served in Iraq twice before and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions as a squad leader under fire. If anyone could have gotten a pass, it was Nein. But he wouldn't take it. Nein, 39, still leads in Iraq, this time as a platoon sergeant with the Kentucky National Guard's 223rd Military Police Company, providing escorts for the 18th Military Police Brigade's Iraqi Police Transitional Team. It is his third deployment in Iraq, and his fourth overseas tour this decade. The first was in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2001. Nein first deployed here with the initial liberation force in 2003. But it was his second tour, in 2005, that would impact him the most. He was a squad leader with the Kentucky National Guard's 617th Military Police Company on March 20, 2005, when a convoy they were riding in was ambushed near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by                
NEW YORK, Dec. 3, 2008 Army Sgt. Joel Dulashanti is, in his own words, "pretty much fully recovered" now, but the road to recovery was neither short nor easy. It did, however, provide him with a life lesson. "There is no reason to waste time in life being sad, or depressed, or angry," the 22-year-old soldier said. "Life's too short, and you learn that through those experiences. You've got to €¦ decide to be happy." [caption id="attachment_3137" align="alignleft" width="217"]fod_army_sniper_01_12_09 Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, presents a flag flown over Ground Zero in New York City to Army Sgt. Joel Dulashanti after a brief ceremony at the site for a group of wounded veterans. The ceremony was part of a United Service Organizations-Microsoft "Salute to Our Troops" weekend, Nov. 8, 2008. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley[/caption] Dulashanti, a Cincinnati native, could have had a very different outlook on his situation. Then a corporal, Dulashanti was deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper with the 82nd Airborne Division in May 2007. His platoon was near the Pakistan border when he and his partner were ambushed.Dulashanti, a Cincinnati native, could have had a very different outlook on his situation. "We were dismounted, chasing down two guys, and they just happened to ambush us before we could ambush them," he said. "I was shot three times; through my left knee, through my right knee €“ which resulted in an above-knee amputation -- and once in my abdomen." The latter injury caused the loss of abdominal muscle as well as the loss of part of his stomach and intestines. Between the attack and Dulashanti's arrival at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, there were stops at Orgun-E and Bagram in Afghanistan. The whole process took a day. After a four-day stay at Landstuhl, he arrived at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center on May 8, 2007, where his family met him. He was still an inpatient when President George W. Bush presented him with his Purple Heart medal on July 3, 2007; something he remembers as "pretty cool." "It does mean a little bit to me," Dulashanti said. "I gave something to get that, but a lot of other people have them [too]. It's actually one of the few things that is actually given to you that you've €¦ earned, but didn't put any work into it," he added flashing a million-dollar smile. The former distance runner and weightlifter spent part of his recovery learning how to walk on his new prosthetic leg, but it wasn't long before he wanted to take up another of his favorite activities again. "I used to rollerblade a lot, [and] I continue to rollerblade a lot," he said. "It was weird, because there aren't any above-knee amputees that rollerblade, so I was the first. "It was kind of difficult coming up with a prosthetic to use," he continued, "but I worked with my prosthetics and [one was developed through] trial and error." Dulashanti estimated the whole process took about a month. Running is still difficult, he said, but he's determined to get back to it soon. He'd also like to get back to active duty, as well. "I just started my medical board," he said. "Hopefully, cross my fingers, it won't be another six months. So, we'll see where that takes me. I'll get my feet wet again, and we'll go from there, but I would like to get back into the field and operate again as a sniper." For now, though, it's a waiting game, and to fill the time he's taking classes in general education. Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt American Forces Press Service CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Dec. 2, 2008 For one senior enlisted soldier serving in Multinational Division Baghdad, the American soldier often represents the only goodness a lot of people around the world will ever know. [caption id="attachment_2993" align="alignleft" width="229"]fod081125 Army 1st Sgt. Albert Rodriguez, first sergeant for the 4th Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, said he is proud of what he and his soldiers personify around the world.[/caption] "For a lot of people in the world, American soldiers are the only goodness a lot of people will ever know; the only bible a lot of people will never read; and the only example of America and freedom a lot of people will ever see," said the Oxnard, Calif., native who is on his second deployment to Iraq. "I am proud to serve, because as a member of the U.S. Army, I am part of a long line of soldiers who have fought and died for our freedom," he said. "In particular, I have had two uncles who gave their lives during World War II and the Vietnam conflict."For a lot of people in the world, American soldiers are the only goodness a lot of people will ever know; the only bible a lot of people will never read; and the only example of America and freedom a lot of people will ever see," said the Oxnard, Calif., native who is on his second deployment to Iraq. "When I reflect on what their experiences must have been like," he continued, "I immediately appreciate all that is good in my life. I believe all soldiers should be proud of who they are and what they are doing, regardless of their job. They have all sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom." Many of the soldiers in the first sergeant's company are directly involved in the planning, operation and execution of the Apache helicopter battalion's mission around the greater Baghdad region. His job is to coach, mentor and take care of soldiers as they conduct their daily tasks in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His company, deployed here just north of the Iraqi capital, uses the attack helicopters to directly affect the fight by protecting soldiers on the ground with aerial support. Although the job could seem overwhelming, many of Rodriguez's young soldiers are performing like seasoned veterans, he said. Army Cpl. Jack Condon, 24, an aviation operations specialist from Catoosa, Okla., who works in the battalion's tactical operations center, said he relies on the advice he receives from senior noncommissioned officers to shape how he moves forward. "Every 15 minutes, I get a [situation report] so I can inform the commander on the mission," he said. "I am at the center of the information flow. I ask for guidance from senior NCOs about what to do with a soldier or a situation, because every soldier and situation is different. That's how my NCOs are here, and I want to be the same." As Condon and other soldiers in the company try to emulate their first sergeant, Rodriguez instills in them that taking care of soldiers is an NCO's top priority. How soldiers live while deployed reflects directly on their morale, the mission and esprit de corps, he said. "Clearly, one of the most positive changes I have seen since my last deployment is the quality of life for our soldiers, who definitely deserve it," Rodriguez said, comparing today's conditions to those that were in place when he served during the initial invasion in March 2003. "The standard of living has been raised so high that we can never go back to the way it used to be. €¦ Trying to describe to a young soldier what it is like to live on a cot for six months is like trying to describe the days without the Internet: unimaginable." (Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt serves in the 4th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Office.)
By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2008 If Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims was a cat, he'd have only six lives left after his yearlong deployment to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division's Company B, 270th Armor Battalion, out of Fort Riley, Kan. [caption id="attachment_2997" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod081201 Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sims, a medic who was wounded three times during his last deployment to Iraq, is preparing to deploy again. Courtesy photo[/caption] "I was wounded three times in Iraq the last time I was there," Sims said of the deployment that began in January 2005. Sims, a medic, was riding in a tracked ambulance between two M1-A1 Abrams tanks when a roadside bomb detonated. Shrapnel pierced the vehicle and penetrated his flak vest, puncturing his left lung."I was wounded three times in Iraq the last time I was there," Sims said of the deployment that began in January 2005. He was evacuated to the hospital in Balad. He spent about three weeks recovering before returning to his unit, but it was only the first of three stays at the hospital. "They know me there," he said with a chuckle. Three months after he'd returned to duty, his unit was on a foot patrol when it started taking enemy mortar fire. One mortar landed near Sims. "Shrapnel hit near my lower left leg, penetrating through the front lower part and coming out the back," he said. "[I] almost, almost lost that limb in that incident, but everything's fine now." Again, Sims was transported to Balad, where he spent another four weeks recovering from his injuries before rejoining his unit to finish his tour. Unfortunately, he would endure one more interruption before rotating back home. It was about 4 a.m., and Company B was patrolling Main Supply Route Tampa, one of the main roads in Iraq, when Sims, who was riding in an Abrams tank, started seeing flashes in the distance. He doesn't remember anything after calling in the attack, however. "I took a sniper bullet €“ 7.62 mm €“ to the front of the helmet -- straight in front, almost right between the eyes," Sims said. The bullet fractured his neck and skull and knocked him unconscious. "I fell into the turret of the tank," he said, "and when €¦ [it] turned to fire at the enemy, it broke my right femur." That earned him a two-month stay in the Balad hospital. He said the care he received there was excellent, and he gave the men in his unit kudos for their part in his survival and recovery. "I attribute a lot of my speedy recovery €¦ [to] the care that I received actually on site at the point of injury -- quick response from all the people that were there," he said, referring to the soldiers he'd trained in the new Combat Life Saver program. "The people that were actually treating me were people that I had trained. By the time I got to Balad, I was pretty much good to go. They just had to kind of patch me up." Sims' last tour in Iraq may have resulted in three Purple Hearts, but he said he's not hesitant about returning. "No, not at all," he said. "I think that it's a lot safer than when I was there. I think the time that I was there, it was right around the national election time, [and] it was really the peak of all the main [bomb] attacks. fod081201-002"I think now, it's almost 100 percent turnaround," he added. It's good he's not timid about returning. His current unit, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Engineer Battalion based out of Schweinfurt, Germany, is certain to deploy at some time. "We're trying to get all the equipment in and get this unit stood up, because it's the only construction battalion in Europe right now," Sims said. "So, we don't know exactly where we're going yet, but we know we're going to go somewhere." Sims, who has served 10 years since enlisting right out of high school, recently re-enlisted indefinitely. He hopes to become a doctor or a physician assistant, he said, but he has his sights on one of the Army's top spots if he remains in the Army as an enlisted soldier. He said he'd like to be the first medic to serve as sergeant major of the Army. "As a medic, you get a broad spectrum of everything that's in the Army," he added. "You can go to any type of unit, so you're more well-rounded, I think." Sims and his wife call St. Charles, Mo., home.  
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams Special to American Forces Press Service FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq, Nov. 14, 2008 The senior noncommissioned officer of the fire effects and coordination cell for the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team in Multinational Division Baghdad began his mission almost immediately upon arriving at this base in southern Baghdad's Rashid district in March. Currently serving as a special projects manager specializing in force protection for the brigade, Army Master Sgt. Craig Wagner, a forward observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, has come full circle with a career that has spanned operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to three deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. [caption id="attachment_3073" align="alignleft" width="169"]fod_comes_full_circle_01_26_09 Army Master Sgt. Craig Wagner, a forward observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, is a veteran of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and is serving his third combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams[/caption] When Wagner joined the Army in 1988 as a cannon crewmember, Saddam Hussein had the third-largest army in the world. Stationed with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, part of the 7th Corps Cavalry Regiment, Wagner's duties as a driver and loader -- the No. 1 cannoneer of an M109 Howitzer -- earned him a deployment to Saudi Arabia for the initial push to liberate Kuwait from Iraq's incursion. Wagner said he remembers arriving to his unit in Bamberg, Germany, where every sock was rolled tight and arranged perfectly in his locker's drawer. The floor was like glass, and the room was neat. Soldiers wore their uniforms fresh and starched. Boots were spit-shined to perfection, and haircuts were tight. Everything was squared away.When Wagner joined the Army in 1988 as a cannon crewmember, Saddam Hussein had the third-largest army in the world. Stationed with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, part of the 7th Corps Cavalry Regiment, Wagner's duties as a driver and loader -- the No. 1 cannoneer of an M109 Howitzer -- earned him a deployment to Saudi Arabia for the initial push to liberate Kuwait from Iraq's incursion. At the turn of the Cold War, the soldiers of the 7th Corps' Cavalry Regiment served as the eyes and ears of the corps commander, Wagner said, providing surveillance and security on Germany's border with what was then Czechoslovakia. The mission kept the soldiers in a constant state of combat readiness, he said, and when alerted, the units reported, loaded their gear and went out the gate to take up defensive positions. "We were always ready to go to fight the Russians on the East German border, but we never even thought about packing up and going somewhere else," said Wagner, who grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., and still calls it home. Within days, the soldiers deployed to Saudi Arabia, where for the next several months, the unit trained and prepared its equipment, awaiting orders in the middle of the desert to drive the Iraqi army from Kuwait. "We flew into Saudi Arabia, waited for ships to arrive with gear and vehicles, loaded up and moved out," Wagner said. The unit was in the port for only a week or so when it assumed positions in the desert along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Accustomed to facing off against East Germany and Russian forces across the Czech border, Wagner recalled, U.S. soldiers were curious as to the capabilities of the Iraqi's Soviet equipment that they had learned to respect as the enemy. "We were staring across the border at them staring at us," Wagner said. "All the stuff that they had, we were worried that if we got into a fight, the Soviets would scuff us up really bad. We knew that we were going up against forces a lot bigger than ours. I knew our equipment was good, but I didn't know that it was going to be that overwhelming of a difference, because the Iraqi forces were using all Soviet equipment." The size of the regiment, with its attached elements, was roughly the size of a modern brigade combat team, Wagner said. The unit deployed with three maneuver squadrons, each composed of three cavalry troops made up of scouts, tankers and mortar platoons. Each squadron also had a tank company and an artillery battery, and a forward support squadron and air command squadron completed the regimental force of about 5,000 soldiers. "Our training was really good; it was top-notch," Wagner said. "When we finally got the word to go, the superiority of our weapons systems and training, compared to theirs, they didn't have a chance." Removing the guard towers and breaching the 25-foot berm that lined Iraq's border, the reconnaissance element assumed a wedge formation and tore north to cut off retreating Iraqi forces before they could return to their bases. The regiment earned the opportunity to test its mettle in the Battle of the 73rd Easting, the biggest battle of the Gulf War and the biggest tank battle since World War II, Wagner said. "Our jobs were to €¦ make contact with the enemy; so we did," he said. "Meanwhile, 1st Infantry and 1st Armored divisions were supposed to come up and relieve us, and 12 hours later, they did a relief-in-place with us. They did a forward passage of lines while we were still engaging with the enemy. They did it without any fratricide, and that was impressive." By the time reinforcements linked up with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Wagner said, he had shot 100 missions, each consisting of loading one to six 155 mm artillery rounds onto load trays, sliding the round into the cannon, applying powder and prime and waiting for the section sergeant's signal to fire. "So the enemy was retreating, trying to get through us to get back to Iraq," he recalled. "We were blocking their return route." The reconnaissance unit was never supposed to go toe-to-toe with the brigade-sized Iraqi element, but the troops were ready to fight, Wagner said. "We had to disengage after running out of ammunition," he added. Operation Desert Storm culminated with four days of fighting for U.S. forces after six months of living on tracked vehicles in the middle of the Saudi desert, Wagner said. "The fight will always be with me," he said. "We were pretty well-prepared and well-trained. We were experts at our weapons systems." In the years that followed, Wagner became a forward observer and eventually reported for duty with the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colo. Throughout his career, he worked in a variety of positions, from leader to trainer, eventually returning to the Raider Brigade, which was part of Task Force 21, the mission to modernize the Army's command and control systems used on today's battlefield. Despite the many changes he's seen in the Army during the past two decades, "soldiering" remains the one consistent force, Wagner said. "By definition, a veteran is somebody who has been to a combat zone and served their country in a time of war," said Army Sgt. Gary Bixler, a forward observer here. "By definition, Master Sergeant Wagner is a veteran - on his third deployment, plus all the deployments he is not getting credit for. That is a notable thing, to be in for 20 years and still going. Bixler, a 22-year old native of Hannibal, N.Y., said his goal is to lead soldiers, and that he's seen the best and worst of the Army during two combat tours to Iraq. He credits Wagner with showing him what it means to be an NCO from the first day that he arrived to the unit and went under the senior NCO's wing in 2005. "When I came in the Army, I had never seen the real world, and without his influence, I wouldn't be who I am today," Bixler said. Bixler added that Wagner's pride, professionalism and proficiency in getting the job done -- while still being old-fashioned in some ways -- helped prepare him for his area-denial and counter-fire missions, in which he peppers known points of origin to eliminate the enemy's indirect fire. "How could we expect to come over here and not learn anything from people who have been there and done that?" Bixler asked. "It gives me something to look up to; he's seen a lot in his time, and I have learned a lot from him." Wagner said he believes the Raider Brigade saw significant success in securing its area of operations because the brigade took the offensive early from the combat outposts and joint security stations in the Rashid district. "We went on the offensive when we first got here, and we shot a lot of the anti-Iraqi forces down," he explained. "We took away their leadership and cut off their supply channels." The security in southern Baghdad continues to improve as the Raider Brigade maintains its presence in the communities and neighborhoods, working tirelessly with the Iraqi security forces and the general populace to build trust and keep terrorists and militias out of Rashid, he said. "I think that a lot of our success has had to do with our relationship with the general public here in Iraq," Wagner said. "They know us and they trust us, and they know that we're really going to give them a fair deal. They like to have some safety and security in their neighborhoods, and they know if they let the [criminals and terrorists] set up shop, that will go away." He said he expects challenges as units leave without being replaced. It is part of the overall plan, he said, as the brigade will disengage from its direct combat role and move into tactical over-watch, with the Iraqi security forces in the forward position. Without changing his current role in the Raider Brigade, Wagner said, he wants to see his soldiers maintain their readiness and ability to provide counter-fire in a timely manner if the need should arise again. "Without getting into the politics of what I think, I knew we would prevail in battle against Saddam's army €“ that wasn't really much of a worry for me," he said. "I knew we had a far superior force and would go in and win; and I also knew the hard part was going to be after." (Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by