"The biggest thing we do … is that intangible yet incredibly critical aspect of instilling confidence in Iraqi forces, that they absolutely can defeat these [Islamic State group] forces," said Brig. Gen. Brian Winski, deputy commanding general-operations for the 82nd Airborne Division.
The division headquarters and the troops deployed to train and advise the Iraqis will continue to provide "good, quality training" to the Iraqis, Winski said.
"They're numerically superior, they're better equipped," he said. "We've just got to re-instill that confidence and, at the lowest levels, that will to fight. The biggest tools we have to do that are the provision of airstrikes and good, quality training to reignite that all-important confidence they need to attain tactical victories."
Brig. Gen. Brian Winski
Photo Credit: Army
At the same time, the soldiers also will focus on leader development, Winski said.
"Leadership is fundamentally the most important element of combat power," he said. "It's more important than the amount of firepower they can bring to bear. It's more important than the equipment they have."
Strong leaders who endure hardships with their soldiers and are tactically and technically competent inspire confidence in their troops, Winski said.
"Some of that stuff atrophied, frankly, from the time we left [in 2011] until now," he said.
In recent weeks, questions have been raised about the Iraqi army's will and ability to fight — and, in effect, the U.S. military's efforts there — especially after the Islamic State terror group captured Ramadi without much of a fight.
In defending Ramadi, Iraqi forces "were not outnumbered, but, in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight," Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said shortly after the city fell.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who served multiple tours in Iraq, said the events in Iraq have been "incredibly disappointing to me, personally."
"I really believed, at that time [in 2010], that in five years or so, Iraq would be doing very well, but, frankly, they fractured," he said.
Going into its nine-month deployment, soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters must understand the nature of their mission, Winski said.
"We're there to support the Iraqis," he said. "We have to understand and nest their priorities with the proposals we're offering them."
The challenge is then to tailor the training provided to the Iraqis so that the result is "the long-term, sustainable clearance of ISIS forces out the west and up north and re-securing the borders," Winski said.
The 82nd Airborne headquarters last deployed to Iraq in 2006, and the mission there today is different from the mission then, he said.
"The frustration is, in years past, when we were the lead in terms of the security line of effort, it's obviously far simpler to apply your own forces and capability against a clearly defined threat," Winski said. "Now, our role is to advise the Iraqis on how best to address the threat."
About 500 soldiers from the division headquarters will deploy in June. They will replace soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division headquarters and are expected to be deployed for nine months.
Once in Iraq, the 82nd Airborne headquarters, led by Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, will be in charge of U.S. and coalition land forces there, to include about 1,300 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The soldiers from 3rd BCT have been training and advising Iraqi forces since January.
As the headquarters prepares to deploy, the rest of the division will maintain the 82nd Airborne's mission as part of the global response force.
"The 82nd will be the nucleus of the nation's global response force, and that's unchanged," Winski said.
The division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team currently has the GRF mission; it will hand off those responsibilities to 1st BCT in December, he said.
Because most of 3rd BCT is deployed, the remaining two brigades are shouldering the GRF mission for longer periods of time, Winski said.
"It's right now a little more than a year, but the brigades are bigger now," he said, adding that before the Iraq mission for 3rd BCT came up, the goal was to have each brigade take on GRF responsibilities for eight months at a time.
"We were almost there," Winski said.
What has helped ease the burden slightly is the addition of a third maneuver battalion to each brigade combat team, Winski said. This allows the division to rotate the quick-reaction force element — which is a battalion-sized element available to respond within 18 hours — more frequently, he said.
To maintain its edge, the 82nd Airborne has numerous training events lined up, including a second rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, for 1st BCT before it assumes the GRF mission.
Soldiers from 1st BCT also will travel to Germany in August and September for Swift Response 15, a combined joint certification training event led by XVIII Airborne Corps. The exercise will also include soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the 75th Ranger Regiment and 10 partner nations.
Also in August, soldiers from 2nd BCT will participate in a large joint forcible entry exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where they will train alongside special operations forces.
"When you talk about how seriously we have to take the readiness for the global response force, these exercises will ensure that when 1st Brigade takes that on in December, they're as trained as any force can be," Winski said. "We'll preserve the global response force. It will be a force that is most ready when the nation is least ready."
As for the threat of more and deeper budget cuts, Winski said he is confident the global response force mission will remain a top priority. What he's concerned about is how well other units will be funded as the budget shrinks.
"We're a contingency force. Our concern is whether the follow-on forces are trained and ready to execute the longer-duration tasks that would be expect of them," he said.
For example, if the Army is forced to cut combat training center rotations at NTC or JRTC, that could have "a huge impact" on readiness, Winski said.
"That's a whole brigade that isn't afforded that premiere training opportunity," he said. "All the leaders of that brigade lose that experience that's so essential. When sequestration hit last time, we lost some of those CTC rotations, so it had a resonating effect."
Senior Army leaders have some tough decisions to make, but "with regard to the chaotic fiscal environment, I'm very confident the global response force will be at a very high readiness," Winski said. "The mission in Iraq is obviously our focus, and we are absolutely trained and ready for it, and we're maintaining the capability the nation requires as the global response force throughout all that."
Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.