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Soldiers board a C-17 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Friday bound for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Soldiers board a C-17 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Friday bound for Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — It has begun.

In what is being billed as the largest military movement since World War II, the United States has started launching the lead units for the first complete turnover of forces in Iraq.

“The transition of forces has started,” confirmed Marine Capt. David Romley, a Pentagon spokesman. Pentagon officials have dubbed the second phase of occupation forces Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.

Leading the effort are hundreds of Germany-based 21st Theater Support Command logisticians who will help pave the way for more than 100,000 fresh troops who are slated to take over occupation duties in Iraq over the next five months.

“These are the very first units in Europe to leave for OIF 2, and they are among the first for the entire Army,” said 21st TSC spokesman Maj. Mark Wright as the first 600 troops — mostly from supply, maintenance and transportation units — began loading aboard military transport aircraft at Ramstein Air Base late Thursday night.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Sgt. William Stevenson with the 612th Transportation Detachment, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany, shortly before flying. “It’s a good feeling to know we’re actually helping with operations.”

The 21-year-old from Reno, Nev., will help manage convoys of heavy gear and equipment now on the way from European- and U.S.-based units. Most of the gear will arrive in Kuwait to make the long journey across Iraq’s dangerous desert highways.

“Of course there’s fear, especially dealing with the convoys,” said Stevenson. “But we did a lot of training before we left. I feel very well prepared.”

Huge magnitude

By May, military leaders hope to replace nearly all the units now in Iraq, while also reducing the total number of U.S. forces there from 131,000 to 105,000, said Romley. “The magnitude of this is huge,” said Romley. “It’s going to be a very involved process.”

Units will also be on the move in Afghanistan in the coming months. The 25th Infantry Division, augmented by a contingent of Marines, is slated to take over the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts there from the 10th Mountain Division in April.

In the end, eight of the Army’s 10 active-duty divisions will have moved.

“In total — those coming in and those coming out — this will be equal in size to the largest movements since World War II,” he said.

Among the units swapping out in Iraq:

• 1st Infantry Division, augmented by the 2nd Infantry Division’s Stryker Brigade and National Guard units, will replace the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul and 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit.

• 1st Marine Division, augmented by a brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light), will replace the 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment along Iraq’s western border.

• 1st Cavalry Division, augmented by a brigade of National Guardsmen, will be responsible for the Baghdad area now patrolled by the 1st Armored Division.

• III Corps will replace V Corps as the command nucleolus for forces in Iraq at the coalition headquarters in Baghdad.

Those forces will arrive inside a still very volatile Iraq.

Over the past week alone there has been an average of 18 attacks against military units every day, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters Thursday in Baghdad. That’s the same day a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is believed to have been shot down by a rocket, killing all nine soldiers aboard.

The biggest concern during the transfer of authority, Kimmitt told Stars and Stripes, is “maintaining the pace of offensive combat operations and maintaining the momentum. We’ve got to keep rebuilding, we’ve got to keep offensive operations going and keep the pressure on the enemy, while at the same time rotating 250,000 soldiers.”

“Our focus right now is on ensuring that the turnover happens as smoothly as possible,” added Lt. Col. Kevin Gainor, an Army spokesman in Iraq.

“We’re trying to insure the experience and knowledge from those units who have been here is passed on to units that are arriving,” he said.

In addition to stabilizing to 105,000 troops inside Iraq, Pentagon planners expect to have another 13,000 support troops, most based in Kuwait, for a total of 118,000 dedicated to Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Romley.

USAREUR units on the move

In the coming months, some 15,000 Europe-based soldiers will be deploying as part of the next rotation of forces into Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.

With V Corps and 1st Armored Division returning from Iraq, the force turnover will see about a third of the 60,000-strong U.S. Army Europe on the move between now and May.

According to Army spokesman Bob Purtiman, the following is a breakdown of the units on their way downrange and when they are slated to begin moving out:

January

• 67th Combat Support Hospital• Elements of the 226th Medical Battalion• Elements of the 45th Medical Company• 557th Medical Company• 574th Supply Company• 512th Maintenance Company• 66th Transportation Company• 497th Movement Control Team• Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 7th Signal Brigade• 72nd Signal Battalion• 612th Movement Control Team• Elements of the 191st Ordnance Battalion• Companies B and C, 510th Personnel Services Battalion

February

• 1st Infantry Division• 133rd Medical Detachment• Company B, 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment• 38th Personnel Services Battalion• 38th Postal Company• 106th Finance Battalion• 2nd Air Operations Support Squadron• Detachment 1, 2nd Air Operations Support Squadron• Detachment 2, 2nd Air Operations Support Squadron• Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 95th Military Police Battalion• 230th Military Police Company• 18 military working dog teams• 386th Movement Control Team

March

• 272nd Military Police Company

— Jon R. Anderson

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