As he stepped off the plane that had returned to Fort Benning from Iraq, CSM James Pearson, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, had lots of things he was proud of.
He had just completed his second and final tour in Iraq as the command sergeant major of the 3rd HBCT and he had seen his Soldiers and that country transform since going there as part of “The Surge” in 2007.
“Both have grown tremendously, since our first time over there,” he said as the 3rd HBCT’s final group of Soldiers turned in the weapons and sensitive items they had carried on their person for a year. “When I first took over (the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, one of the 3rd HBCT’s six battalions), my goal was to take the staff sergeant promotables and build them up. Now, they are all first sergeants leading their second companies. When I took over the brigade (in 2007), I applied that emphasis across the board and it has paid off for us. To watch these Soldiers grow as leaders has been very satisfying for me.”
Equally as satisfying for him, has been the development and progress made in Iraq.CSM Pearson explained that when he and the 3rd HBCT arrived in the Mada’in Qada in 2007, the country was a much more dangerous place.
“At the height of ‘The Surge,’ there were about 1800 attacks a day,” he said. “Now there are less than 200. The country has come a long way. Their security forces have a come a long way. Based on what I’ve seen, I think they will continue to grow and get better.”
According to CSM Pearson, the 3rd HBCT’s work as trainers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of both deployments.
“The training we helped provide has helped improve their security forces 10 times over,” he said. “I will say this, the Iraqi policemen and Soldiers have always been eager to learn and get better. They have gone from following us out on patrol to leading, planning and executing their own training plans and missions. The Iraqi Army has moved forward by leaps and bounds. They all wear their uniforms with pride now and they should. “
CSM Pearson credits the Iraqi Army with developing their noncommissioned officer corps into a valuable part of their organizations.
“Last deployment, the Iraqi army was much more officer-oriented,” he said. “They led patrols and had much more hands on control over every aspect of their units. Its good to see a lot of that responsibility be turned over to their NCOs. I know it has been a huge change for them, but I think it has made them more effective and lightened the load of the officers.”
As he left Iraq for the final time, CSM Pearson said he was proud of what the brigade had done to make it a better place.
“I say this a lot, but the World War II generation is considered the greatest generation this country has ever produced,” he said. “I think when history looks back on this time in history and at this Army and how it has performed, it will be considered one of the greatest generations as well. To do what we have done with an all-volunteer Army is nothing short of amazing. These young men and women raised their hands and volunteered to serve their country, knowing full well they would deploy and be put in harm’s way. I think that says a lot about the type of people we have in this organization and is the reason we have gone to places like Iraq and accomplished the great things we have accomplished.”
CSM Pearson doesn’t waver when asked what his greatest accomplishment in Iraq was.
“I brought every one of our Soldiers back to Kelley Hill,” he said. “We lost some great Soldiers, but everyone came back home; no one was left behind. The Sledgehammer Soldiers proved that we are all a part of a larger family. I couldn’t be more proud of that or them.”
As he prepares to transition to his next assignment at Fort Benning, CSM Pearson said he will always be a Sledgehammer Soldier at heart.
“My time with this brigade has been very special,” he said. “I can honestly say that I love this unit and am proud of what we have accomplished together. I wouldn’t trade my time on Kelley Hill for anything. It was one of the most rewarding parts of my Army career.”
As CSM Pearson and 3rd HBCT commander, COL Pete Jones, led the final group of redeploying Soldiers into Freedom Hall at Lawson Army Air Field, the command sergeant major marched them to the center of the auditorium and brought them to attention in front of their family and friends.
After looking over the formation, he looked at COL Jones and nodded to indicate they were ready to begin the ceremony.
COL Jones smiled and nodded back. He answered with the same phrase he had echoed hundreds of times since he took command of the 3rd HBCT.
“God job as always, Sergeant Major. Good job.”