Huffman’s Kershaw leads in Iraq

Col. Michael Kershaw

HUFFMAN – Colonel Michael Kershaw is scheduled to return to the States in a little over a year having distinguished himself and done his community proud with his service in Iraq.
That service not only includes analysis of enemy tactics developing effective counter tactics and diplomacy to mobilize local Sunni resistance to Al Qaeda In Iraq. The persuasion of local sheiks to join with American efforts to drive Al Oaeda from the area was recognized by President Bush as ‘a breakthrough in U.S. Iraqi relations to free Iraq.’
On the battlefield
Since 2001, the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division has served the most time on the battlefield in Iraq. Kershaw and his troops patrol a 300-square-mile area southeast of Baghdad, once known as an insurgent stronghold called the triangle of death. Casualties taken by the 3,600-member brigade have totaled 52 killed and more than 270 wounded in action, Kershaw told reporters at the Pentagon via videoconference.
The 2nd Brigade will be replaced in Iraq by the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. In the transition over the coming weeks, they will be briefed on lessons learned by Kershaw’s brigade over the last 14 months. Kershaw said there has been great progress in his sector during his brigade’s time there. Thousands of Iraqis have allied themselves with the U.S.-led coalition troops and have applied to join the Iraqi police. Economic conditions are improving, and children who had been working on farms are starting to go to school, he said.
“You can rest assured that although we’ve had some heavy sacrifices, our contributions have been significant,” Kershaw said. “And we’re going to leave south Baghdad better than we found it. We’ve really seen a dramatic reversal in the security situation,” said Kershaw, commander of 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

Fighting insurgents
The emergence of these citizens groups about four or five months ago was indeed turning point in efforts to establish stability within his area of operations. About 16,000 vetted citizens have enrolled to form the armed citizens groups, Kershaw said, of which about half are now performing security patrols and checkpoint duties. Cooperation with citizens groups has led to the capture of more than 85 terrorist leaders in recent months. And citizens groups are finding and turning in large amounts of explosives and other ordnance that could be used by insurgents.
There’s been “a huge decline” in improvised-explosive-device attacks on U.S. forces since the citizens groups began anti-insurgent operations, the colonel said. “We’re now able to work on projects in the local areas that help stimulate the local economy,” Kershaw said. As al Qaeda departs, roads are opening up, which helps spur local commerce and industry, Kershaw said. And local children are being escorted to schools without incident, he added.
“Government of Iraq programs can now move into areas that were previously denied to them by the insurgency,” Kershaw said. The formation of concerned citizens groups in his area appears to be an outgrowth of the earlier “awakening in Anbar,” where sheikhs in western Anbar province had turned against al Qaeda. The area southeast of Baghdad was once a bastion for Sunni Baath Party members who’d been displaced from high office after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Kershaw explained. Al Qaeda moved in afterwards, he said, and the terror group struck alliances with the embittered Sunnis. But, as in Anbar province, Sunnis soon became disillusioned with al Qaeda’s brutal methods and religious philosophy, Kershaw said. The terrorists forced marriages between their leaders and local women and banned smoking and other cherished pastimes, he said.
“In every counterinsurgency, you’re really struggling for the bulk of the people,” Kershaw pointed out. “What we’re trying to do is bring a sustainable, lasting peace to this area. And, to date, the results have been very favorable.” Iraqi military and civic leaders also are making gains in tamping down the insurgency in the region, Kershaw said, noting cooperation between Iraqi government officials and tribal leaders remains a critical element in effecting stabilization and reconstruction efforts.
Soldiers captured
Two of Kershaw’s soldiers, Spc. Alex Jimenez, 25, and Pvt. Byron Fouty, 19, remain missing after a May 12 al Qaeda attack near Qarghuli Village. “We’ve been doing everything possible to bring them back before we leave,” Kershaw said, noting that search efforts are ongoing to find the missing soldiers. Kershaw also saluted his troops for their successful performance of a “tough mission” in Iraq. “Our soldiers have truly performed extraordinarily,” Kershaw said. “We’ve been doing everything possible to bring them back before we leave. This is still our brigade’s No. 1 priority,” he said October 5.
Their identification cards were found later in an al-Qaida safe house north of Baghdad, along with video production equipment, computers and weapons. The house was more than 100 miles from the area where they disappeared. The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, claimed in a video posted on the Internet the soldiers were killed and buried.
However, “We flooded the area for about six weeks in a detailed search,” Kershaw recalled Friday, “and continued a more surgical search since then.” A dozen insurgents involved in the planning and execution of the assault have been captured and other suspects may have been hit in a strike Thursday night, he said. He did not identify any of those involved except to say the attackers were 15 to 18 people affiliated with al-Qaida.
Jimenez’s wife Yaderlin Hiraldo Jimenez, an illegal immigrant in the United States, was threatened with deportation but later was given a green card – evidence of legal residency – out of respect for her husband’s sacrifice, U.S. government officials said.
An active career
Kershaw was commissioned in the Infantry from the United States Military Academy in 1984, first assigned to the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as Rifle and Scout Platoon Leader in the 3d Battalion, 327th Infantry.
In 1987, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington as a Weapons Platoon Leader. In 1989 he was assigned to the 3d Battalion, 41st Infantry, 2d Armored Division as Fort Hood, Texas. He participated in Operation Desert Storm as a Mechanized Company Commander in the 1st ‘Tiger’ Brigade attached to the 2nd Marine Division.
In 1991 he returned to Fort Lewis, Washington, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment where he served as a Supply Officer and Headquarters Company Commander. 1996, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia where he served as the Operations Officer for 3d Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and the 75th Ranger Regiment. He was then posted to Italy where he commanded 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Battalion Combat Team. He commanded 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia.
Colonel Kershaw’s military education includes the Infantry Officer Basic Course and Advance Courses, the Command and General Staff College and the National War College.
He holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy and a Master of Arts from the Naval Postgraduate School. His awards and decorations include the Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, and the Ranger Tab. The brigade is in its 14th month of an extended 15-month tour; “The most-deployed brigade in the U.S. Army,” he noted. On its return home, which should be completed over the next several weeks, it will have served 40 months overseas since December 2001.