|by Sgt. Craig Zentkovich
INSIDE IRAQ (Army News Service, March 26, 2003) -- Armored columns of the 3rd Infantry Division roared hundreds of kilometers toward Baghdad during the first four days of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," securing an airfield at Jalibah, exchanging fire outside Al Samawa, and capturing about 250 enemy soldiers.
The 1st Brigade Combat Team entered Iraq March 20 and has continued to push north as part of a U.S.-led effort to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.
The Raiders, led by Task Force 3-69, crossed the border from Kuwait around 8 p.m. Thursday amid a flurry of suppressive artillery from 155mm Palladins and unitary rounds from a number of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
Despite an all-around nervousness, the crew of the first tank over the border was ready to do what was necessary to accomplish the mission.
"Being the first tank in the task force adds to the nervousness," said Pfc. Lewis Jones, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment loader for M1 Abrams crew A21. "But we're going to do what we came into this Army to do."
The crew crossed the border unscathed and, by sunrise the next day, the remainder of 1st BCT was 10 kilometers into Iraq. The Raiders continued north and secured an airfield south of Jalibah, encountering no Iraqi resistance.
"The soldiers are doing great work," said Col. William Grimsley, 1st BCT commander, at the end of day two of the ground assault. "We're right where we need to be, and early."
Saturday saw the 1st BCT convoying 30 hours straight until Sunday afternoon. In the process, more than 250 vehicles were tactically refueled and continued on to what would be a 300-kilometer movement.
Outside the city of Al Samawa, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment exchanged fire with Iraqi soldiers. No injuries were reported, as 15 Iraqis surrendered and were taken as prisoners of war, according to Maj. Morris T. Goins, 1st BCT operations officer.
In a separate incident, a soldier from 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery was injured when he received a gunshot wound to the leg from Iraqi small-arms fire. He was evacuated to 3rd Forward Support Battalion medical station and is listed in stable condition, Goins said.
The name of the soldier will be released pending notification of the next of kin.
On Sunday, as the 1st BCT was still on the move, 2nd Bn., 7th Inf., moved up to high ground where the troops found Iraqi soldiers and various pieces of equipment scattered about a 2-kilometer square area.
"We received some inaccurate incoming artillery for a little while," Grimsley said. "Once we discovered the firing location, we called for close-air support that, in turn, eliminated the threat."
Included in the area was a military compound, complete with bunkers, watchtowers and barracks, enclosed by a barbed-wired, chain-link fence.
"When we rolled up on the compound, most of (the Iraqi soldiers) were sitting on the ground in a circle with their uniforms off," said Staff Sgt. George Stephenson, B Co., 2nd Bn., 7th Inf., squad leader. "In total, there were 97 (Iraqi) soldiers who surrendered."
The 1st BCT was responsible for the apprehension of 248 Iraqi POWs when Sunday drew to a close, according to Maj. John M. Altman, 1st BCT intelligence officer.
"They have all been very cooperative," he said. "Most of them were told by (Saddam's regime) that all the Americans wanted to do was kill Iraqis, and that we would use chemical weapons on them. Shortly thereafter, they said they realized that all of it was lies and propaganda.
"Our actions have contradicted what they were led to believe," Altman said
In addition to the POWs detained, 1st BCT located and destroyed numerous pieces of equipment including small arms, artillery cannons, mortar tubes, armored personnel carriers, vehicles and air defense guns during the first four days of the war, according to Altman.
Apart from the one injured soldier, the soldiers of the 1st BCT are a healthy, motivated and great team, ready to do whatever is asked of them, according Goins.
"I've been training a long time for this. Now is a time of action," said Sgt. Jeff Emrick, A Co., 3rd Bn., 69th Armor, M1 Abrams gunner. "The soldiers are going to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. The only medal they want is that plane ticket home."
(Editor's note: Sgt. Craig Zentkovich is a journalist with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.) ed to harrass American and British lines of supply.