The rotation will continue into June as 130,000 soldiers head for home, to be replaced by about 115,000 soldiers coming out for the continuation of the work. The second phase is referred to as Operation Iraqi Freedom II, or OIF-2.

Army engineers are handing over construction projects all over Iraq. Many are regular army, reserve and National Guard organizations that served under the command of 130th Engineer Brigade, which was the Army’s coordinating engineer unit for OIF-1. Now they, along with the 130th itself, are in the process of heading home. Some are already back, others are convoying equipment to the docks of Kuwait for shipment home, and still others, like the brigade’s headquarters staff, are wrapping up affairs and transferring the minutia of ongoing projects and operations in the final stages of the transition.

Col. Dewayne Chestnut is the operations commander of the 420th Engineer Brigade. The Texas-based reserve unit has replaced the 130th Engineer Brigade in Iraq.

The 130th is an active duty army unit based in Hanau, Germany, that is commanded by Col. Gregg Martin. It transferred its operational authority to the 420th Engineer Brigade, a reserve combat engineer unit based in Bryant/College Station, Texas, under command of Brig. Gen. Robert Pullmann, on Jan. 27. In addition to commanding the 420th, Pullmann will also serve as chief engineer to the coalition joint task force managing army affairs in Iraq. Gen. Pullmann’s deputy, Col. Dewayne Chestnut, will handle operational, day-to-day command of the 420th.

To make the transition, the headquarters staffs of the two units conducted a formal, 10-day procedure in which the commanders and their staff officers systematically handed-off operations.

"It’s a five-day, left seat/five-day right seat operation," says Lt. Col. Patrick Reily, the 130th’s construction management section chief, drawing an analogy to aircraft pilots and co-pilots. For half the process, the incoming staff officers study and observe the procedures of the operation they are replacing. At the mid-point of the orientation they change places. The 420th started answering the phones on Jan. 22 and made decisions from then on. The officers they relieved stood by, literally, to advise for a full five days more. "We can’t afford a hiccup. If business has a hiccup during a transfer of authority they may lose profits. In the army, if you have a hiccup you may not finish a project that is critical to getting the mission done. You could lose lives," Reily says. "And we’re not just replacing a project manager. We’re replacing the whole corporation at once."


Meanwhile, at subordinate units of the 130th scattered all over Iraq, troops are washing down and packing up everything they brought with them a year ago. Customs authorities won’t let equipment and people ship out until all the Iraqi dust and dirt has been washed away, a tall order for units that have spent the last year swimming in the dust and dirt of Iraq.

The maps of Iraq that hang about the headquarters of the 130th at an raapidly expanding base near Balad, about 70 kilometers north of Baghdad, are covered with notations of 130th engineer-directed activity. The number of engineers under its command grew—from its normal 1,700 engineer-soldiers, to 4,000 at the launch of the invasion on March 21, to almost 19,000 by the end of its tour. They came from a host of regular army, reserve and National Guard units drawn from across the land.

For the soldiers heading home, it is a time for systematic appraisal of accomplishment and future direction, but it is also a time for reflection. The brigade’s engineers have built roads and airfields, filled craters, cleared mines and laid down dozens of assault bridges. They have pushed up hundreds of miles of protective berms and built base camps for 50,000 soldiers. The unit scraped and graded 3,600 miles of road and crushed 35,000 tons of gravel at its last stop alone. Its intelligence officers have contributed 10,000 report pages to the body of knowledge about the enemy and Iraq.

"It’s going to be hard to leave here," remarked Col. Martin on Feb. 1 as the hours until his scheduled departure ticked away. As one of his last acts of command, Martin has pursued two goals, one of which was to shake the hand of every soldier under the 130th umbrella who was still in Iraq and give them combat patches and commemorative coins, and the other was to take them all out as units for his infamous "Hooah Runs."

Soldiers with the 130th Engineer Brigade, finishing one final 6 a.m. run in Iraq before heading back to the untit's home base in Hanau, Germany.

Martin, 47, is a picture of robust health and energy. He is a devout believer in cultivating mind, body and spirit; that of his own, and that of all of his soldiers. His 6 a.m. physical training runs are legendary for their challenge, but also famous for two other things: ultimately, no matter how difficult the trial, and all finish together, and the regardless of how long or hard the course, Col. Martin leads the way.

In the last weeks of his command he has been on a tear, trying to get to every unit to make sure no one feels left out of the experience. The extreme repetition of it all would be almost silly, if it weren’t for the fact that the soldier’s ability to reach deep into body and spirit for strength and ability in extreme situations saves lives in Iraq every day. All the running and yelling and flag waving would look like child’s’ play, if its purpose was not the most serious of things.

(Photos by Tom Sawyer for ENR)

he first stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom is drawing to a close. The milestone is marked by the rotation of units. Those that have been deployed for a year are heading home, but only after they meet, and hand off responsibilities to others coming out from the States. It is called relieve-in-place.