I Corps to bring knowledge learned in Iraq to Afghanistan mission

Joint base Lewis-McChord – Iraq looms large in Col. David Funk’s career. He spent three years there leading soldiers, including an assignment last year commanding Stryker troops with Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Now he’s preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan this summer with Lewis-McChord’s I Corps, another unit steeped in recent Iraq experience.

In 2009-10, I Corps was charged with managing daily combat operations for American soldiers on Iraqi soil. This time, the corps is to be tasked with a similar job while collaborating with soldiers from 29 countries.

Funk resists comparisons between the two wars, except in one way.

“When people describe Afghanistan as this intractable problem, I just remind them gently that in 2006-07, the Iraq problem looked like a Gordian knot, too,” he said.

Funk was among 125 I Corps soldiers who spent the past week getting their heads around their next assignment by running a small command exercise at the base south of Tacoma.

Until this exercise, I Corps’ preparation for the deployment centered mostly on academic-style learning about Afghanistan, NATO’s enemies in the country and the war’s objectives.

They went into the week with a significant morale boost after recent news of Osama bin Laden’s death in Pakistan.

Funk said the death of the terrorist figurehead could prompt insurgent networks to “think twice” before attacking America’s NATO allies in Afghanistan. But it won’t end the war on its own.

“The operation that resulted in bin Laden’s death gave a sense of closure to many Americans,” Funk said. “It also sends a message to the enemies of the United States that we keep our promises, even if it takes 10 years.”

I Corps soldiers will work from a compound in Kabul, side by side with their foreign counterparts at the International Security Force Afghanistan Joint Command (IJC). The IJC is charged with executing the war’s strategy as described by Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan.

I Corps soldiers will analyze data and feed information to Lewis-McChord’s senior Army officer, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. He’s in line to follow Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez as the IJC’s leader.

Senior commanders in Afghanistan can receive mountains of data about the war every day. The crucial task for I Corps soldiers will be to get the right information in front of Scaparrotti, said the unit’s spokesman, Lt. Col. David Doherty.

About 700 Lewis-McChord soldiers likely will go on the deployment.

Scaparrotti has filled open spots in the corps with soldiers who served recently in Afghanistan. They’re still filtering in to the corps, and are expected to participate in a larger pre-deployment exercise next month.

Soldiers now are listening to daily briefings from senior commanders in Afghanistan so they can hit the ground running when they start arriving in Kabul. Scaparrotti has traveled to Afghanistan several times since January to get a first-hand look at the job site.

Some facts on the battlefield will start to change quickly once I Corps gets to Afghanistan. The White House has set July to begin a withdrawal of some American forces, although it has not released the number of service members to bring home.