August 4, 2011

Operation Thriller and the search for missing warriors in Iraq

Warhorse troopers search for lost warriors in Iraq

CONTINGENCY OPERATING STATION GARRY OWEN, Iraq – Soldiers from Bulldog Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division joined forces with a personnel recovery detachment to search possible sites that might contain remains from American or British personnel, July 21, in southern Iraq.

Bulldog conducted a cordon and search of a suspected burial site where intelligence determined the remains of American and coalition forces were located. The goal was to recover any remains and confirm the identities of the prisoners of war found.

“I was initially surprised to learn that such a mission still existed here in Iraq. My next response was determination to see this mission through; I know my parents would want my remains home and buried properly on American soil if I were lost in combat.” said Capt. Matt Oldach, a native of Waterford, Pa., and Bulldog Company commander. “Thoughts of those families lacking closure easily motivated me to give this mission 100 percent of Bulldog Company's attention. My soldiers were honored and fired up to get out in Amarah and recover our fallen comrades. They truly desired to give every effort and make any sacrifice necessary to bring those who had died before them home.”

The mission was called Operation Thriller and was a priority for all U.S. Forces – Iraq due to the location in Amarah and the assets involved. One of the major goals of USF – I is to recover the remains of the various POWs from Operation Iraqi Freedom and bring closure to the families involved. The mission was the largest effort toward that goal so far.

Planning for the operation was a complex endeavor. There were over 100 U.S. soldiers and 70 Iraqi army personnel involved, as well as aviation and engineer assets.

“Preparation for Operation Thriller required a great deal of coordination with the enablers assigned,” Oldach said. “Successful conditions for this mission required not only the enablers understanding our scheme of maneuver, but also that my security elements understand the enablers' capabilities, limitations, and requirements. We began planning for this mission over two months prior to execution with many coordination meetings, rehearsals, and checks prior to execution.”

Platoons from Bulldog Company along with the 422nd Military Police Bn., provided security for the search teams, who used trained canines to search the area. After the personnel recovery dog teams received positive results at three sites, the engineer heavy digging assets began to dig and carefully determine if remains existed.

The teams searched an area near the Tigris River among large palm groves. The palm groves bordered downtown Amarah, a city of about half a million people with an indifferent attitude toward USF – I.

“The search areas were very narrow dirt paths that made travel difficult in our large vehicles, presenting a significant challenge to the mission,” Oldach said.

He added that the citizens were generally subdued or friendly, but in another neighborhood, locals threw rocks at the trail vehicles.

“Outside of that incident, citizens were generally friendly,” Oldach said. “The most significant challenge of the operation was navigating the ancient unimproved roads in modern, over-sized, armored vehicles. While these vehicles provide the best protection for our soldiers, they make travel in such narrow areas very difficult.”

But there is no way that such a small inconvenience could stop these warriors when the possible reward is the recovery of U.S. and coalition remains, and the subsequent closure available to their families and friends.

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