In many respects, the tipping of West Rasheed is the story of two E’s. One E is Combat Outpost Ellis, known to the world as COP Ellis. The other is Echo Company, Team Easy, a provisional company created by the Vanguards, Task Force 1-18, Second Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, the fabled Big Red One. Within that, it is a story of blood price paid, heroism, courage, and determination – on the part of the Soldiers and local Iraqis.
COP Ellis deserves its own segment in this saga. While it can’t be said that West Rasheed would not have tipped without it, it can be stated that things would have gone very differently and at a very different pace. Positioned in the heart of the rural section, it provided not merely a base for the troops, but also a secure location for local interaction as well as a commitment to that process made tangible.
That tangible commitment nearly didn’t happen. While there were those who felt an outpost was needed in the rural area and away from FOB Falcon, it was also recognized that any such outpost would be very exposed in a hostile area. Was it worth putting lives at risk and/or paying a blood price to establish such a post? Could it interdict sufficient acitivity to be worthwhile? Was it possible to use the base to do more? Why not just run patrols out of FOB Falcon in keeping with the Super FOB concept?
These were questions that had no easy answers, and were debated at FOB Falcon and higher from all reports. Yet, signs of the awakening were there. Captain Lee Showman notes, “While we saw the cleansing occurring in the urban parts of our AO, the Anbar Awakening swept east from Fallujah and Ramadi into our Radwaniyah area.” The decision was made to proceed with COP Ellis, because of that and because it would put forces in a good position to respond rapidly to events and opportunities in the rural area.
Construction began around March by Combat 128 of the 1-18th, and a base began to take shape. Yet, the future was not guaranteed. There were those who questioned the utility, and a blood price was being paid. With the arrival of the surge, troops were being required in urban Baghdad for support and operations there. Consideration was, according to various sources, being given to halting work and abandoning the base so that the troops could be used for that purpose. Yet, the final blood price, which claimed three lives, had the opposite effect.
The troops were filled with a resolve that their friends should not have died in vain. Local leadership saw the awakening hitting the area, and knew that COP Ellis could be a vital factor in encouraging that and reconciliation – even though, according to Lt. Col. George Glaze, commander of Task Force 1-18, it was “…a sector we were not sure how to solve.” They knew, however, what to do and their petition to higher was granted.
To meet all the demands, Task Force 1-18 got creative. They created a provisional company, Echo, which took over COP Ellis in June; and, they gave it the leadership it needed to succeed: Captain Rob Summers and First Sergeant Timothy Wilcoxen.
This team faced some formidable challenges. They were creating and leading a provisional company that had just been stood up; there was controversy in the media about the COP and the troops there; and, the insurgency was extremely active. On the bright side, there was no where to go but up.
Sgt. Wilcoxen focused on the immediate needs of the troops, which included completing the COP itself. The layout was rearranged a bit, the final placement was made on concrete barriers for the walls, and time was even found to procure an new Army field kitchen so that the troops had “hots” (hot meals) to go with the “cots” (bunks). Various personnel issues were addressed, and in late July a MWR trailer was obtained that provided the troops with satellite internet for some computers, along with three internet phones.
With Sgt. Wilcoxen taking care of these issues, Captain Summers was free to concentrate on meeting the other challenges, in an equally creative manner. Lt. Col. Glaze states “Rob Summers took a different approach, using his reconnaissance background, taking time to collect data, intelligence, perspective, and history of the Sunni farmlands to our south. Most importantly of all, Rob Summers took the time to know the people of Radwaniyah. He built relationships.” Sgt. WIlcoxen notes that “There isn’t a person out in West Rasheed he doesn’t know or hasn’t seen personally, and there isn’t a house in our sector he has not been in.”
Just as Sgt. Wilcoxen finished the physical foundation that was COP Ellis, Capt. Summers built the foundation of knowledge, trust, and respect that fully brought the Anbar Awakening into West Rasheed. As others have noted, he was relentless in building that foundation, in solving problems, and in making things happen. With the mandate to make it work, and the freedom to find the right solution for this sector, the right approach for this particular AO was found. The resultant flip was profound.