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RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Iraq’s first democratic elections will be a “milestone” event for 2nd Infantry Division soldiers during a yearlong tour to the desert, says the man who will lead them there — 2nd Brigade Combat Team commander Col. Gary S. Patton.

“Our mission is simply to help create a secure and stable environment for the interim Iraqi government,” said Patton, who is supervising training in South Korea for 2nd ID soldiers deploying to Iraq in a few weeks.

The brigade will have a wide-ranging mission in the desert, he said.

“It ranges from combat with insurgents, terrorists and anti-coalition forces to operations to stabilize services and infrastructure. My sense is that … our future mission will see a need for increased emphasis on stability operations, especially with respect to the upcoming elections at the end of this calendar year,” Patton said.

The U.N.-overseen elections will be a “milestone” in the deployment, he said.

“Our future headquarters [in Iraq] is already in detailed planning for our role in the election cycle. I have developed a strategy as to what I think will be the key tasks involved in that milestone event,” he said.

The area where the brigade will operate in Iraq is still a secret. But Patton said his soldiers will capture or kill insurgents and terrorists in their area of operations. They also will train Iraqi security forces and may be involved in joint operations with them, he said.

The brigade will build on the work of the unit it is replacing to improve the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure such as roads, waterworks, electricity and schools, he said.

Soldiers deploying to Iraq are training to understand the environment they will work in, Patton said.

“It is important that they understand the nature of this fight and how to think through problems for themselves. Our unit is very well-trained and focused on our defense of South Korea and combat operations to preserve peace on this peninsula. However the conditions in Iraq vary from the conditions here in Korea,” Patton said. “You have culture, terrain and language differences.”

The Iraq training in South Korea attempts to replicate conditions and problems likely to be encountered on the combat team’s future battlefield, he said.

“By creating these conditions in this training our objective is to build on our already-strong tactical base,” Patton said.

The 25-year career officer said he has trained all his life for the kind of missions found in Iraq.

Patton’s previous assignments include patrolling South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone as a captain during the Cold War; serving as a company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division; commanding the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment; and training soldiers in infantry tactics at the National Training Center. He took command of 2nd ID’s 2nd Brigade in 2002.

“My two years of command were up in June. I feel honored and privileged to be able to extend that for the Iraq mission,” he said.

The hardest part of the deployment for Patton will be separation from his family in South Korea, he said.

“I will miss my son’s senior year at high school and a year of my kids growing up,” he said.

Before taking over 2nd Brigade Patton was active in military softball, playing infield and favoring third base.

“It is a nice pastime that allows you to retain humanity and normalcy in life. It is going to be important to do things like that where we are going. I intend to have a softball team, and as time allows, a softball league and maybe a touch football league [in Iraq],” he said.

There are no plans to try to introduce American sports to Iraqis, Patton said.

“If we have one thing we want to instill in their society, it is a concept of freedom and democracy. History has shown that free people flourish and prosper. Look at post-war Germany and Japan. Freeing people from tyranny and terrorism is a condition that is very worthy of our mission,” he said.

People often ask if Patton is related to the great U.S. Army general George S. Patton.

“I have no known relations with Gen. Patton, but I am inspired by his leadership,” he said.

Other inspirations include German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and U.S. veterans, he said.

“My father is a World War II and Korean War veteran. These men gave up years of their lives to fight around the world and we are their legacy. We have to follow in their footsteps. Their World War II and Korean War fight for democracy is our Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Patton said.

The soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team are trained and ready for their mission, he said.

“We are confident in our teams and fellow soldiers, and we are very proud to represent the U.S. Army and 2nd ID in this historic mission,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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