As advance elements of the Oklahoma National Guard land in Kuwait this week, their mission will be to hand off Baghdad's International Zone to full Iraqi control, said Brig. Gen. Myles Deering, commander of the unit.
Deering said the 45th, known as the "Thunderbirds" after the American Indian symbol that represents it, will have to work closely with the sometimes-contentious Iraqi government and the Iraqi armed forces.
"We will be transitioning the International Zone over the tenure of our deployment over to the government of Iraq," Deering said. "We will be working toward the transition."
Waves of Oklahoma guardsmen and women will fly to Kuwait, through which they will be processed for the next two to three weeks, even as advanced members of the team are in Iraq now, readying their mission.
This marks the first time the 45th Infantry is deploying overseas as a unit since it served in Afghanistan in 2004. There, the group trained the central five corps of the Afghan National Army, normally the kind of job reserved for U.S. Special Forces units.
The Thunderbirds served in combat patrols with their Afghan trainees, engaging in combat along the border with Pakistan against Taliban and al-Qaida elements.
But Iraq is different. Unlike most of Afghanistan, Baghdad is heavily urbanized, sprawling with streets and structures, and, until recently, filled with fighting between Sunnis, Shiites and other factions like the splintered remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq. "Ben Fenwick
Read more about Ben Fenwick's Thunderbird travels.