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VFW Magazine March 2018 : Page 25

medical/surgical detach-ment. Units represented included the 74th Long Range Surveillance Detachment; D Btry., 319th Field Artillery; the 250th Forward Surgical Team; 2nd Bn., 10th Special Forces Group; and the Air Force’s 4th Air Support Operations Squadron. As the paratroop-ers awaited the order to jump, their commander offered them a few words of motivation. “Americans are asking you to make the world a better place by jumping into the unknown for the benefit of others,” said Col. William Mayville, 173rd Brigade command-er. “Paratroopers, our cause is just and victory is certain. I want you to join me tonight on an air-borne assault.” ‘THE JUMP WAS A RELIEF’ Pilots and crew of the Air Force’s 62nd, 315th (Reserve), 437th and 446th Airlift Wings deliv-ered the Sky Soldiers and other troops to the drop zone in 17 C-17s. The planes descended from 30,000 feet in “a crazy dive” that allowed the paratroopers to jump at 600 feet. But 36 troopers didn’t par-ticipate because the one-minute time limit to clear the planes had expired. As they neared the jump zone, many paratroopers said they experi-enced “a rush” of adrenaline. “Each little event after the red lights came on made your heart beat a lit-tle bit faster, regardless of what you did or didn’t know,” said Pfc. David Deaconson, of C Co., 2nd Bn., 503rd Inf. “By the time we stood up to wait for the green light, my stomach was doing somersaults. I thought for a second I might throw up and had to put my head on the parachute of the guy in front of me to get my bearings.” Most just wanted to get their boots on the ground. “The jump was a relief—all the weight [from my 100-pound ruck-sack] was gone,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Cremeans, an indepen-dent duty medical technician with the 786th Security Forces Squadron, 86th CRG. The troops landed in muddy fields about 75 miles east-northeast of Mosul to secure Bashur Airfield. Paratroopers spent the night looking for and dig-ging out heavy equipment — including Humvees — that was dropped first. “When I first hit, it wasn’t a nor-mal landing at all because it was so muddy,” said Deaconson, a for-mer member of VFW Post 8862 in Vicenza, Italy. “We expected mud, but we didn’t expect it to be as deep as it was. A lot of people got stuck waist deep when they hit and didn’t get to do a proper parachute landing fall.” The airfield the Sky Soldiers secured later was used to deliver tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles operated by Task Force 1-63. The task force included the Headquarters and C companies from the 1st Bn., 63rd Armor Regiment and B Co., 2nd Bn., 2nd Inf. The headquarters of 2nd Bn., 15th Field Artillery also participated. ‘MUD WAS SO BAD’ According to an after-action report, the jump took a total of 58 seconds. But because the force had been strung out over a 10,000-yard drop zone, it was 15 hours before brigade soldiers could assemble all personnel and equipment on the ground. “It took us all night to move maybe eight kilometers,” Allen said. “We were scattered everywhere. The mud was so bad, my team leader and I were pulling each other in and out of it. He lost a boot in it and ended up walking half of the way barefoot.” Over the next 96 hours, supporting aircraft landed the remaining 1,200 soldiers of the brigade. By March 29, 2003, the entire brigade was in Iraq ready for combat. The 173rd’s area of operations was in an oil-rich, Kurdish-and U.S. Special Forces-controlled region of northeastern Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran. One of the brigade’s main missions was to secure oil fields around Mosul and Kirkuk. “Kirkuk is key,” said Army Maj. Mike Hastings, a life member of VFW Post 2791 in Tinley Park, Ill., in early April 2003. “The Iraqis want it, the Turks want it and various other eth-nic groups also want it. What this drop means is that we can secure it until we are relieved by other forces.” Because Turkey had denied the U.S. permission to base ground troops on its soil or use its land routes to drive into northern Iraq, U.S. command-ers considered flying the brigade into Bashur Airfield. But that scenario, they decided, would have taken too long. Commanders figured a full-blown airborne assault also would have a deep psychological impact on the Turks, Iraqis and Kurds. Thanks to U.S. warplanes covering their landing, paratroopers met no enemy resistance. The threat from an estimated 100,000 Iraqi troops dug in along the line separating the Kurdish-controlled region from the rest of the country never materialized. From March 30 to April 2, 2003, the Sky Soldiers, U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish troops assaulted Kirkuk. They defeated enemy forces that included the 2nd, 4th, 8th and 38th Iraqi Infantry divisions; militia loyal to the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam group; and Iraqi Republican Guard units. The U.S. troops and their allies secured the city on April 10. During the 173rd’s 11-month deployment to Iraq, nine Sky Soldiers died. It was the brigade’s only partici-pation in the war. From 2005 to 2012, the 173rd logged four deployments to Afghanistan. In recognition of the 173rd’s histor-ic feat in northern Iraq, the Pentagon in 2004 classified the airborne assault as a combat jump. That meant the paratroopers who participated in it are qualified to wear a gold star, or “mustard stain,” that crowns their parachutist wings. J EMAIL MARCH 2018   • WWW.VFW.ORG • THE IRAQ WAR 15TH ANNIVERSARY | 2003-2011 25

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