The Screaming Eagles of Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division Air Assault are once again in harm’s way on foreign soil. Five hundred soldiers are in Iraq and Kuwait on an advisory mission, called Operation Inherent Resolve, aimed at helping the Iraqis in their fight against the terrorist group ISIS.
The troops’ official departure ceremony was hard on their family members. It was also hard on the feelings of those off base who've seen it all before.
At a recent Casing the Colors ceremony, service members from Fort Campbell packed up the unit’s flags and pennants and prepared them for their journey to the Middle East. The symbols of unit pride and identity are then unfurled in foreign war zones to signify a new base of operations.
Speaking to soldiers and family members in attendance at the base, Staff Sergeant Cara Duda read from the ceremony's official history. "The very soul of a military unit is symbolized by the colors under which it fights," she said. "They record the glories of the past, stand guard over its present destiny and insure inspiration for its future. Today the colors serve as a binding symbol of continuity and a point of inspiration for the future. Commanders and soldiers come and go but the colors will remain steadfast."
This is the unit’s 28th mission since WWII's Normandy campaign in 1942. It’s the sixth deployment for the unit’s commanding general. Despite his experience in combat zones, Major General Gary Volesky said things never get any easier.
"The environment in Iraq is unlike it has ever been in any of my previous deployments," he told WKU Public Radio. "There are so many different elements in that country that it’s going to be a challenging mission. The Iraqis are the ones who are doing all of the operations. We are just advising them. In my previous deployments, we were partners and we were in the fight with them."
General Volesky’s boss, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commands the 18th Airborne Corps. He was even more direct in his send-off to the troops.
"Screaming Eagles, I’m not going to sugar coat it. The mission you’ve been given is extremely challenging, one of the most difficult our Army has faced since 2001. The dynamics at play in Iraq and Syria are incredibly complex and ever-changing. It’s an interwoven set of wicked problems."
The Fort Campbell troops will spend the next nine months in Iraq overseeing the training and advising of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, as they ramp up their fight against ISIS. Major General Volesky said the success of the mission goes beyond the post's main gate, depending heavily on family members and other civilians back home.
“We could not do what we do without the love and support of the best military community I have ever served alongside in 32 years of service," he said. "We stand together as we deploy to Iraq, and I ask that you would continue your phenomenal support to our soldiers and their families."
One of those supporting the mission back home Chrystal Kinley. She moved to Kentucky more than eight years ago from Fort Hood, Texas. She says she owes her job at the Oak Grove Wal-Mart to the troops being at Fort Campbell, and feels for their families. "I think the spouses and the children get tired of it, but I think also we all know it's part of that lifestyle, so we just take it as it comes and goes," she said. "It’s scary, yes, and I fear for everyone, but we’re here to support them, back them, and pray for them."
Chris Willis, a disabled military vet living near Fort Campbell, said his support for the soldiers is mixed with some anger.
"First and foremost, we’re about the safety of our soldiers because they are fathers, sons, daughters and that’s the most important part--worrying about our people getting shipped out of the country fighting for God knows what reasons. But that doesn’t make it right that they’re constantly getting shipped, come home for a month, go out for a year. It gets tiresome after a while. We want our boys home."
Operation Inherent Resolve will be the Screaming Eagles fifth tour of duty in Iraq. They’re expected home by Christmas.