Veterans remember historic 'Striki Brigade' deployment
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea (May 19, 2014) -- When notice arrived that he was deploying to Iraq, 1st Lt. Scott McCullough was ready to return from his year-long tour with the 2nd Infantry Division, in South Korea.
Three months later, the Louisville, Ky., native found himself in the epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency inside the "Sunni Triangle," in Al Anbar Province.
This year, McCullough and other combat veterans from 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Strike Brigade," 2nd Infantry Division, will mark the 10th anniversary of the first wartime deployment of U.S. Army forces from the Korean Peninsula.
McCullough served as the executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Air Assault), in the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
"We were operating in a very kinetic environment," said McCullough, who is now a major serving as the plans officer in the Eighth Army Public Affairs Office. "Everybody in Iraq knew who we were because we were the only brigade driving around in green Humvees."
Master Sgt. Michael Y. Pak served with McCullough in the 1-506th Infantry during the deployment. Today, Pak is the senior enlisted adviser for the Korean Service Corps Battalion, the U.S. Army's largest multi-functional battalion.
During the deployment, Pak said his unit conducted route and base security, convoy escort missions and raids, as well as local engagements with Iraqi leaders.
"There were many successes in our deployment but the biggest success at the time, in my opinion, was winning the hearts and minds of the local nationals," said Pak, a 16-year Army veteran from Killeen, Texas, who has deployed to Iraq twice. "(They) would provide information on possible weapons caches and [improvised explosive device] locations."
Along with confronting and defeating the enemy, Pak said the Soldiers of the 2nd BCT had to overcome the incredible heat in Iraq.
"Korea was going through the monsoon season and the cool down period as we ramped up to deploy," said Pak. "Once we got to Iraq, it was like a sauna that could not be shut off. The weather difference had to be a 40-to-50 degree Fahrenheit difference."
According to Pak, his unit patrolled the hot, dusty and dangerous roads in Iraq, where encounters with improvised explosive devices were common occurrences.
"The fear of IEDs was in all of our minds as we rode in the back of this LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle) down one of the most dangerous [main supply routes] in Iraq," said Pak.
Col. Eric Albertson, the U.S. Forces Korea command chaplain, deployed with the Strike Brigade to Iraq. The chaplain, an avid photographer who captured the deployment on film, said even holding religious ceremonies could be challenging in such a volatile area.
"On several occasions, while celebrating Mass, I had to stop the prayers and get down for cover due to incoming. On two occasions, the blasts impacted close to the chapel," said Albertson, a Catholic chaplain from the Arlington, Va., Diocese.
Former 2nd Brigade Combat Team Commander now-Maj. Gen. Gary Patton said the biggest challenge in Iraq was an enemy that continued to adapt and evolve throughout the 2nd BCT's deployment.
"Our brigade was the main effort in the epicenter of the insurgency," said Patton. "We were fighting terrorists on a daily basis, and our Soldiers performed very well under very trying circumstances."
"I couldn't be more proud of the 2nd BCT and the entire combined defense team in Korea," said Patton. "When asked to do the impossible on short notice, they rolled up their sleeves and made history."
Retired Gen. Charles C. "Hondo" Campbell, who served as Eighth Army commander during the historic first operational deployment, said the 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployment was part of the U.S. Department of Defense's force reductions on the Korean Peninsula.
"My most vivid memory is of the teamwork that made the deployment possible," said Campbell, a native of Shreveport, La., who commanded U.S. Army Forces Command before retiring from the U.S. Army, in 2010. "On the peninsula, the entire Eighth Army Team contributed. Everyone had an important part, to include the 2nd Infantry Division and all of its major subordinate commands; Eighth Army and all of its [major subordinate commands]; and (the Korea Regional Office)."
Campbell said many other U.S. Army organizations helped to make the deployment happen, including U.S. Army Forces Command; U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; Third Army; the Intelligence and Security Command; Network Enterprise Technology Command; U.S. Army Personnel Command; and Installation Management Command.
"As is often the case, it took a team effort with each team member exercising disciplined initiative to accomplish the common goal," said Campbell. "The deployment of the 2nd Brigade speaks volumes about the adaptability of the Army during that and subsequent periods."
(Editor's note: Part two of a three-part series.)