The United States has begun the largest changeover of troops in the field since World War II, bringing home 130,000 troops from Iraq and replacing them with 105,000 fresh troops from U.S. bases. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Fort Hood, in central Texas, the rotation involves risks to the ongoing operation to stabilize Iraq.
The rotation of troops began in December and is expected to be nearly completed in May. Some of the most field-tested and experienced troops are coming home after almost a year in Iraq. Among them are troops from the Army's 4th Infantry Division, based here at Fort Hood.
During their time in Iraq, the troops from Fort Hood learned how to deal with the Iraqi people on the ground. They learned how to operate in dangerous areas and how to search for the people instigating attacks against them. Among their accomplishments was the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Specialist Carlos Rosales, just back from 11 months in Iraq, says the troops going in now will face a steep and often dangerous learning curve.
"They have to learn all over again," he says. "We were there 11 months so we know how to react to different situations. We had to learn while we were there. Everything is a new experience, every day there is something new."
Specialist Michael Montas says his unit made an effort to promote a smooth transition with the troops that replaced them last week.
"When they got there to replace us, some of our key leaders went out with their leaders and they showed them the routes and the way we did it," he recalls. "They can use that on their scheme and how they want to do things. Hopefully, they are ready. I hope for their sake they are ready."
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Officer Lieutenant Colonel Bill MacDonald says much was learned by troops stationed in Iraq through everyday experience carrying out missions and interacting with the people.
"Every time we would do a mission or some type of project, we would have after-action reviews to review the lessons learned to pass that on, so we could continue to get better," he says. "As we progressed in our mission, each and every day we would learn things and modify our techniques, tactics and procedures to enable us to continue our mission and be very successful at it."
Colonel MacDonald says his troops are making every effort to pass on what they learned to the men and women who are replacing them in Iraq.
"That is kind of what we are in the middle of doing now is a very detailed transition with our counterparts who are taking over our area of responsibility to make sure they have those lessons learned and to share all the tips, techniques and procedures that we have in place in order to set them up for success," he says.
While there is no substitute for actual experience in Iraq, Specialist Montas says even the most basic and detailed training the army gives troops can make a big difference.
"It is the small things that came into place, things you never thought about," he says. "Before I left I had doubts about whether I was prepared for this or not. But when we got there, then I was the team bulldog, and everyone pulled together. We just kind of leaned on each other's shoulders and it was the small training each one of us had that helped us pull through."
Many of the regular army units being pulled out of Iraq will be replaced by Army reserve units or National Guard units from around the United States. Some military experts have expressed concern that these soldiers, who have mostly trained on weekends while holding down regular civilian jobs, may not be ready for the grueling tasks awaiting them in Iraq.
Colonel MacDonald, however, says that these troops do receive intense training before deployment and that they often bring special skills that regular army troops do not have.
"Many of the soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard bring to bear experiences in occupation skills such as police work, water purification, transportation, logistics, medical," he says. "Their experience really does add to our combat power and effectiveness when we do our daily missions and we simply could not do our job without their help."
Military experts say reserve and National Guard units may not be as well trained for combat duty as regular army troops, but that their skills may be ideal for the stabilization and reconstruction work being done in Iraq today.
By sometime in May, there will be 40,000 National Guard and reserve troops in Iraq, constituting 37 percent of the overall U.S. military presence there. National Guard troops from Florida and Indiana currently in Iraq are being withdrawn and troops from California, Washington, Arkansas and North Carolina are being sent in.