When the president calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg.
It is an expression some version of which we’ve all heard. We take pride in it and understandably so.
But answering that call comes with grave responsibility, and potential danger and separation, as we have been reminded so recently.
When the vast majority of Americans were ringing in the New Year, soldiers from Bragg were preparing to deploy to the Middle East in response to the New Year’s Eve attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad. Activated were 650 troops in the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. They had about 18 hours notice. An additional 100 troops from elsewhere will join them.
“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” wrote Mark Esper, U.S. defense secretary, in a tweet on Tuesday (Dec. 31). “The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.”
That is not all.
Last Friday afternoon, news broke that thousands of additional troops from the 82nd Airborne would deploy after U.S. airstrikes on Thursday killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The 82nd is often called upon. Back here on the home front, it means families will see their loved ones whisked off at the end of the holidays and right at the start of a new year. In the near future, uncertainty will define their days.
In the embassy attack, protesters broke into the compound, which is under heavy guard, and set fires. The attack was an apparent response to U.S. airstrikes against a militia, backed by Iran, where 24 people were killed.
No U.S. personnel were injured in the embassy attack. Later, the assailants withdrew and melted into large-scale protests outside the compound where some chanted “Death to America.”
Luckily, no U.S. personnel was injured in this week’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.
“Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” the president tweeted in response to the attack. “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!”
Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo said last week’s airstrike at the Baghdad airport was launched to head off an imminent attack on U.S. interests coordinated by Soleimani.
Trump said Wednesday during his address to the nation that the U.S. will not respond militarily to this recent airstrike since no one was hurt.
What role the 82nd paratroopers will play in the tense Middle East region is not publicly known.
After the initial deployment of 650 troops was announced, Task & Purpose, a military-focused website, reported: “It was unclear whether the soldiers will eventually go to Iraq, but during the lead-up to the first surge, it was common for Army and Marine Corps units to deploy to Kuwait before being sent to Iraq. However, the United States and Iraq have agreed to a troop-cap of about 5,000 U.S. service members in Iraq. The Pentagon has not said whether the Iraqi government would have to approve a troop increase above the cap.”
Amid a busy news cycle, dominated by stories of the impeachment of Trump, and numerous end-of-the-year retrospectives, the news of the embassy attack did not get the attention it otherwise might have. Neither did the initial deployment from Bragg.
The death of Soleimani and Iran’s fierce rhetoric of revenge has received much more media attention, as it appears open war may now be on the table.
But either way, we stay tuned in — whether the rest of the nation does or not. And we will remember just like we remember the names of past post-war operations in Iraq where Fort Bragg answered that 911 call: Enduring Freedom (I & II), Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.
We wish the soldiers godspeed and hope for their safe return.
An editorial from The Fayetteville Observer, North Carolina.