Manchu Family Readiness Group Letter of 2 January 2008

Happy new year to all Manchu families, friends and supporters. I hope that your 2008 is filled with joy and prosperity. Although not right around the corner, I still find some comfort in knowing that the Manchus will return to their homes and loved ones this year.

The reason that I’m writing you again only a little more than a week after my Christmas letter is to let you know of a change to the plan for the battalion. For the last few weeks, Manchus have been planning and preparing to rejoin our brigade at FOB Warhorse near Baquba, Iraq and begin combat operations in that city. As with many things in the Army (and life in general), priorities and orders have now changed. A few days ago, I was informed that we will soon be detached from 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (our parent brigade from Ft. Lewis, WA) and attached to 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Ft. Campbell, KY. In the near future, we will leave FOB Taji and our nearby area of responsibility to move to Combat Operating Base (COB) Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq. There we will join our new brigade headquarters and begin combat operations in the Salah Din province of Iraq. COB Speicher is about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. I visited the COB a few days ago and it is actually a lot larger than FOB Taji but has many of the same amenities. We are working on our accommodations there, but I anticipate that our living conditions will be similar to those we have here at Taji.

For security reasons, I cannot discuss our likely tactical tasks, but we will be busy, no doubt. Don’t worry – although we will be with 101 ABN (AA) we will keep our Strykers and won’t be jumping out of airplanes or fast roping from helicopters anytime soon. Seriously though, I know that some of you may be worried about security in this region as compared to the current. I do not yet possess in depth knowledge of the areas that we will operate in, but I will say that Salah Din province has seen great progress and a steep decrease in violence in the last 6 months much like the Taji region. However, Iraq remains a dangerous place. But your Manchus are battle tested and ready for any mission that comes their way. As always, we will continue to focus on mission success while striving to bring all Manchus home with honor and in good health.

Another issue of concern is communications. While we will have a lapse in our ability to communicate via email and phone, it should last only a matter of a few days. With the move, our APO will also change. Our new address at COB Speicher will be as follows:

SPC Joe Manchu
(HHC, B Co, C Co or D FSC), 4-9 IN, 1/101 BCT
APO AE 09393

I suggest that any mail you send after 10 Jan 08 have this new address on it to ensure it reaches the intended recipient. You may note that I did not include A Co in the address menu above. Unfortunately, A Co will not rejoin us for this new mission. Although I am sad to leave Able Company behind, they will remain in the capable hands of the leaders of 2-12 FA and 4/2 SBCT and I remain supremely confident in their ability to sustain the fight and win the peace in their area. I had the pleasure of visiting A Co in their FOB in Baqubah on 31 Dec 07 to wish them well. As always, I was inspired by their professionalism and confidence. They have earned a reputation for outstanding work there as they did in the Taji region and I am justly proud of them. Finally, I thank you for you continued support to the Manchu battalion. You are the reason that we do what we do. We wish you all well and look forward to the day when we will be together again.

LTC Bill Prior
FOB Taji, Iraq

Manchu Family Readiness Group Letter
27 January 2008
Families and friends of the Manchu Battalion:

Greetings from Contingency Operating Base (COB) Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq. I hope that you are all doing well and managing the winter weather at Fort Lewis (or wherever you are). Almost all Manchus have now closed on COB Speicher from FOB Taji and other areas and my intent with this letter is to give you an update on our progress to date and future missions in this area.

As I specified in my last message, most of the battalion left control of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (our parent brigade from Fort Lewis) and is now under the control of 1st Brigade, 101st Division from Ft. Campbell, KY here at COB Speicher. I say most of the battalion because A Company remains with 4/2 SBCT under the control of 2-12 FA for the time being.

On January 15, 2008 we handed off responsibility for our area north of Taji, Iraq to another Army unit. The next day, the bulk of the battalion conducted a roadmarch in our Strykers and other vehicles about 100 miles north and settled in at Speicher. The one word that best describes the move is COLD. Although this is a desert area – and usually very hot – temperatures were in the low 20s for the move. Winter is the rainy season in Iraq, so we continue to experience damp, cold, muddy conditions but we had no injuries or incidents on the roadmarch or since and that is what is most important.

I suspect the question on most of your minds is “what will Manchus be doing next?” Although there are operational issues that I can’t discuss for security reasons, I’ll do my best to answer that question. First, we will not have a specific area of Iraq under our control as we did near Taji. Instead, we will likely operate at many different locations throughout Salah Din province which is directly north and west of Baghdad province. We will help to develop intelligence, work with local citizens and eliminate terrorists in areas that need attention and where the brigade currently has few forces. If this sounds a bit vague and unpredictable, it is by design. Our missions and areas of operation will be where we are most needed at the time as determined by the situation and the commander. I anticipate, however, that we will always come back to Speicher to conduct maintenance and prepare for future missions. Speicher will remain our “home” in Iraq, but we will make many business calls in other areas in the future.

I know that many of you are also wondering if this is a more dangerous mission than what we were doing previously. That is also a tough question to answer and really remains to be seen. As you know, Iraq is a dangerous place in general. We certainly will be going into areas where US forces don’t normally go and terrorists may or may not lurk. But, of course, that is why we are here. I remain very confident in the Manchu’s ability to fight the enemy and win the peace wherever we go and all leaders in the battalion remain wholly committed to our dual goals of success on the battlefield and bringing all of our Soldiers home in good health and with honor. Another topic of much conversation is living conditions here at COB Speicher. Unfortunately, they are not the best. On the other hand, they have improved and we expect more improvements to come. Upon arrival, we moved into bare tents with cots, many of which had no or insufficient heat (remember my earlier COLD comment). After a few cold nights and some work, we were able to establish adequate heat for every Manchu living space and even spread out a little. Our current tents are also a very long way from the dining facility, PX and other MWR facilities. Busses run, but movement around the COB remains difficult. On a brighter note, however, we are scheduled to move into a newer tent pad in the middle of February. They are still tents, but should be in better shape with beds and wall lockers and more latrines and showers. They are also within easy walking distance of the main dining facility, main gym, internet café and other amenities.

Since I last wrote, we also had a significant change in battalion leadership. We said goodbye to CSM Phil Pich on January 13th after 40 months as the battalion CSM. Due to health reasons, he was forced to redeploy early to Ft. Lewis. In an emotional ceremony, he bid his battalion farewell just before we left Taji. Soon after the roadmarch, our new CSM arrived here at COB Speicher. We held a ceremony to welcome and honor CSM Richard Leirdahl on January 20. CSM Leirdahl comes to us from 1-38 IN, part of 4/2 SBCT, so he is no stranger to our organization, our mission or Ft. Lewis.

Just before CSM Pich left, we held an awards ceremony to honor some of our outstanding Manchus. With BG Boozer from 1st Armored Division in attendance, we pinned the Silver Star on SGT Price from B Co, the Bronze Star for Valor on SGT Parks from C Co and several other valor and combat awards on Manchus from across the battalion. In a ceremony to come, SGT Shields of A Co will also receive the Soldier’s Medal. We are very proud of these and other heroes. They are all superb Soldiers while at the same time a testament to the hard work and many accomplishments of the battalion as a whole over the last 10 months.

As spring approaches, many Soldiers and family members are wondering what we know about redeployment at this point. In essence, the plan has not changed. As I tell the Manchus who ask me directly, “you should plan to be with your family back at Ft. Lewis for a great 4th of July celebration.” Of course, this will be about the 15 month mark for our deployment. I personally wouldn’t buy tickets to Disneyland yet, but I anticipate that we will return about that time. If the plan changes, I will do my best to let you and the Manchus know as soon as I can. As always, I appreciate your support to your Manchu Soldiers. You make a world of difference to us. As our deployment moves toward the one year mark, I urge you to participate in your FRG to help stay informed and keep in contact. The underpaid but cheerful FRG volunteers do their best to help in any way they can and truly understand what you are going through in a very personal way. I appreciate their sacrifice and commitment along with yours and that of our Manchu Soldiers. Thanks for all you do.

LTC Bill Prior
COB Speicher, Iraq

Manchu Family Readiness Group Letter
18 February 2008
Families and Friends of the Manchu Battalion:

Hello again from Contingency Operating Base (COB) Speicher, Iraq. It is good to be back here after several days of operations in Salah Ad Din province. As stated in my last letter, the Manchu battalion is now working under 1st Brigade of the 101st Division.

Over the last couple of weeks, most of the battalion has been on the move in a sparsely populated and largely untouched desert region where terrorists are known to move, prepare and store explosives and other materials. We worked to find their resources and disrupt their operations to protect the population centers of the province. Over the course of the mission, we found a few IEDs, discovered one large explosives cache and detained a few probable terrorists. Moreover, we showed the enemy that we can and will go to the most remote and harsh areas of the province and that he has no sanctuary or safe haven. Besides the pride I have in the battalion’s excellent performance of this duty, I am also very happy to say that we brought all Manchus back unharmed and in good health. I will attach a few pictures to emails to the rear detachment leadership that will be posted on the web site and/or shown at the FRG meetings. They should give you a feeling for the conditions of the area from which we just returned.

Upon our return to COB Speicher, we were able to move all Manchus into our new life support area. Our new tents are much nicer and roomier than the old and many Soldiers now have real beds rather than cots. I expect that all Manchus will get a new bed within the next week and all should get a wall locker within the next few weeks. I know it does not seem like much, but little things like this make a real difference. In addition, the new life support area is within easy walking distance of the dining facility, gym, small PX and MWR area which makes life a bit easier for all.

R&R leaves are wrapping up for the battalion. By the beginning of April 2008, we will send the last Manchus home for their well deserved break. Our policy is that all Soldiers who deployed with the battalion from Ft. Lewis or were assigned in theater prior to 1 July 2008 will get the opportunity to take leave. We have attempted to put others who arrived after 1 July on leave based on their date of assignment. Although many details remain, redeployment plans are starting to firm up. I now expect that the first Manchus as part of the advanced party will arrive at Ft. Lewis sometime in late May 2008 and the bulk of the battalion will close in late June 2008. A few will remain as part of the trail party for a short while thereafter, of course. Although still a few months away, we are all as anxious to get home as you are to have us there. However, we will keep our eye on the ball and focus on our mission and our Soldiers for the remainder of the time we are here and continue to ask for your support as we do so.

As always, thanks for your thoughts, prayers and assistance to the Manchus. In Iraq, at Fort Lewis or wherever you are, Keep Up The Fire!

LTC Bill Prior
COB Speicher, Iraq

Manchu Family Readiness Group Letter
19 March 2008
Greetings to all Manchu supporters at Ft. Lewis and throughout the world via the internet. Thanks, as always, for your interest in our operations and welfare and your encouragement.

The last month has been a busy one for the deployed Manchus. We recently returned to COB Speicher from an extended operation in the Iraqi desert near the city of Samarra. While there our mission centered on securing, clearing, repairing and opening a key highway that connects Salah ad Din province to Anbar province. This route was closed to civilian traffic over a year ago due to extreme terrorist threat and the area had since devolved into an insurgent stronghold and safe haven. Over the course of several days, we occupied the area and conducted numerous searches that yielded indisputable evidence of enemy presence including hundreds of pounds of explosives, enemy camps and documents and a large number of IEDs. Overall, the mission was a success in that we reclaimed a vital artery whose renewed use by the population will help improve the economy of the area and ultimately make it more secure. In so doing, we also set the conditions so that friendly local security forces (known collectively as Sons of Iraq) could occupy checkpoints on the route to ensure long term control and stability. At the same time, we eliminated another enemy sanctuary and pushed them farther from the population both literally and figuratively.

This success was not without a steep price, however. In the course of the operation, CPL Jose Paniagua Morales of C Company was killed in action on March 7, 2008 when his Stryker was struck by a large IED. CPL Paniagua is a hero and a brother and we miss him dearly. All available Manchus in Iraq will attend a memorial service in his honor on March 24, 2008.

As in all facets of life, change is a constant with the deployed Manchu battalion. At the beginning of April, we intend to conduct some changes in the leadership of the battalion. First, MAJ Pat Roddy will relinquish command of C Company to CPT Andy Lembke. Soon thereafter, 1SG John Seegrist will relinquish his responsibilities in HHC to SFC Michael Engleking. I would like to publically thank both MAJ Roddy and 1SG Seegrist who have served in their positions these last 3 years for their dedicated and exemplary leadership. In the same way, I welcome CPT Lembke and SFC Engleking, both long time Manchus, and reaffirm my confidence in their abilities.

On February 27, the battalion held another awards/promotion ceremony. At this event, many proud Soldiers were awarded Combat Infantry, Combat Action and Combat Medic badges. In addition, several received the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor. Many more such awards are now on hand at the battalion and we intend to hold another similar formation in the near future.

To shift gears a bit, I’d like to say a few words about taxes. It’s that time of year again and I want to assure all families of deployed Soldiers that the government allows special exceptions for filing their federal income taxes. Deployed Soldiers are allowed to file their federal returns up to 180 days after their redeployment date without penalty, if they so choose. Furthermore, such Soldiers do not need to request this extension (it is automatic) and deployed Soldiers will also receive the 2007 federal rebate even if they do not file by April 15, 2008. Now, I’m not a tax expert, but I talked to someone about this that is. If you have tax questions, I recommend you consult your own expert like those at the post tax center who provide free services to military families.

Finally, a few words on redeployment. Last time I wrote that our advance party would arrive at Ft. Lewis in the later part of May and the vast majority of Manchus by the end of June 08. I still think those dates are “in the ballpark,” but as I write this things are shaping up with respect to the redeployment plan. Unfortunately, I cannot give more refined dates because I just don’t know yet. I think that more specific information will be available soon and, when it is, I will immediately let the rear detachment and FRG know so that it can be disseminated. Stand by and I’ll let you know soon after I do.

As always, I ask for your continued support of your Manchus. You backing means more to us than most realize or understand. For our part, we promise to stay focused on the mission, defeat the enemy, protect the population and bring home our Manchus in good shape to the best of our human ability. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you in person soon.

LTC Bill Prior
COB Speicher, Iraq

View Image   MAJ Roddy and LTC Prior out in the field.
View Image   CPT Cable Whorton (Bn FSO) near a flooded canal.
View Image   Manchu Stryker in the desert at sunrise. Taken during our last mission
View Image   Note to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior
View Image   Pictures to Sam Coleman from LTC Prior

Manchu Family Readiness Group Letter
21 April 2008
Hello to all Manchus families and supporters. I hope that everyone is doing well as the weather warms up and the return of your Manchus draws near. As always, the Soldiers of the battalion are doing well.

As since the attachment of most of the battalion to 1/101 Brigade Combat Team in Salah Ad Din at the beginning of this year, we are currently involved in a mission to eliminate areas of enemy sanctuary in the remote parts of the province. Manchus are moving across the desert expanses to interdict terrorist movement and reduce their resources such as explosives, weapons and money. As part of this effort we are working closely with the Iraqi Army (IA). We are devoting significant time to training our IA counterparts and then incorporating them into combined operations in our area. While we have some distinct strengths as compared to the IA, the converse is also true. Their knowledge of the terrain, people and culture is invaluable and we are truly stronger together than separately. In addition, the capability that we help to build in the IA and the resultant confidence the Iraqi people have in their army are ours means to create lasting security in the region long after we depart. Early on in this mission, we found several caches and removed some confirmed terrorists from an area that had formerly seen consistent enemy activity and reporting. It has been much quieter lately which I consider a measure of success. Nonetheless, Manchu Soldiers will remain alert, diligent in their duties and prepared until the last man returns from the last patrol.

Early this month, CSM Lierdahl and I took some time to visit the A Company Manchus in Baqubah. As usual the Soldiers of A Co were doing a fantastic job in their section of this once volatile city. Although Able is not working under battalion control at this time, we are as proud of them as ever. Their efforts to protect the population and create a stable environment in their area are as impressive as they are successful.

Although we must and will remain focused on our combat mission, when that job is complete, we will turn squarely to preparing our Soldiers and equipment for redeployment. The general redeployment schedule has been published previously, but here is the latest for planning with a few refinements…

About 5 May 08: Arrival of Advance Party of 11 Manchus
About 1 June 08: Arrival of three main body flights over 2 days with most Manchus
About 7 June 08: Arrival of most of A Company with 2/12 FA
About 20 June 08: Arrival of detail party with about 100 Manchus
About 30 June 08: Arrival of trail party with about 5 Manchus

Please keep in mind that these dates are subject to change for a variety of reasons. We will let you know through the rear detachment and the FRG if the time frames change and, when available, exact date and time of arrival at Fort Lewis. The planned location for formation and release of Soldiers upon return is Soldier’s Field House on the north side of the post airfield.

As far as events after redeployment, here are a few more dates for planning…

1 July 08: Brigade redeployment ceremony on Watkins Field at Fort Lewis.
1 July to on or about 31 July 08: Brigade block leave
7 August: Brigade Change of Command at Watkins Field
23 August: Battalion Ball (Location to be determined)
Late August: Required Company and Battalion Changes of Command

Although the same disclaimer about possible change applies, we will do our best to let you know if changes occur. Thank you once again for your patience and understanding. The work that your Manchus are doing is difficult but extremely important. I realize that it is difficult on your end also and submit that what you are doing for us is equally important. I say that because we do what we do for you and could not do it without your love and support.

LTC Bill Prior
COB Speicher, Iraq

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