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Rakkasans take control in Tikrit

By Pfc. Cassandra Groce

TIKRIT, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 9, 2005) -- The 101st Airborne Division’s “Rakkasan” brigade assumed control of operations in the Salah Ad Din Province in a ceremony Jan. 5 at Forwarding Operating Base Speicher as Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division prepared to head home.

Various Iraqi officials attended the ceremony, including Lt. Gen Abdel Aziz, Iraqi Army 4th division commander, and Humad Mumood Shugti governor of Salah Ad Din.

The ceremony opened with the Iraqi national anthem and the United States national anthem played by the 101st Army Band. The ceremony passed authority at FOB Speicher to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team Rakkasans of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

The “Raiders” of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division had provided security in the province over the last year through elections and the constitutional referendum. They also trained and equipped four Iraqi Security Forces battalions.

“Since their arrival in January [2005], the accomplishments of this brigade [Raiders] have been remarkable,” said Maj. Gen Thomas Turner, commander of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

The Raider’s commander, Col. Mark McKnight, spoke of returning home to Fort Stewart, Ga., where trees are planted along Warrior Walk in honor of fallen Soldiers. Fifty-five new trees will be planted there to honor Soldiers from his brigade.

“Because of their courage, freedom is growing in Iraq,” said McKnight. “They will always be a part of Iraq.”

The Rakkasans have been preparing for this deployment for the past 18 months while transforming to a modular brigade. They have already been conducting missions throughout the province for the past three months, but the ceremony marked the official hand over.

Col. Michael Steele, the Rakkasan commander, spoke of freedom as well to the Iraqi officials.

“Rakkasans are professional combat Soldiers, and we’re ready to work with Iraqi counterparts for a free Iraq,” said Steele. “But we can’t give you your freedom. You have to earn it.”

“It’s time to go to work,” said Steele in conclusion.

The Rakkasans have a rich history dating back more than 50 years. During World War II they received the name Rakkasans while conducting a combat airborne mission in Japan. In Vietnam they took Hamburger Hill.

“They [Rakkasans] will add another chapter to their remarkable history as they help Iraq to build a new Iraq with a representative government that respects all it’s people,” said Turner.

(Editor’s note: Pfc. Cassandra Groce serves with the 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Iraq.)

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