Florida Guardsmen and Iraq: Ten years later
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (March 19, 2013) – Soldiers from the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team mobilized December 27, 2002, and went to Iraq. The Soldiers were part of a force comprised of the active duty 5th Special Forces Group and select Florida Army National Guard Soldiers, secretly maneuvering into Iraq before Coalition Forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom March 21, 2003.
On March 19, 2003, Soldiers from Combat Company, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment cut through two built-up earthen berms between Jordan and Iraq using simple tools instead of large pieces of equipment to remain undetected. These Soldiers’ actions helped enable Special Forces teams to secure Basra and the surrounding petroleum fields, paving the way for the main invasion force to move into Iraq.
Spc. Jeffrey Wershow, a 22-year-old Florida Army National Guardsman from Gainesville, Fla., can be seen in a video from that night through the green haze of the night-vision lens, planting the American and Florida flags beside a breach in the defensive wall in Northern Iraq.
The unit continued on to serve in Baghdad and Wershow became the 26th U.S. Soldier killed in Iraq four months later. In all, 18 Florida Guardsmen died in the past 10 years while serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
These proud and dedicated Florida Guardsmen went into the fight before the fighting officially started and have continued the fight, with nearly 100 overseas deployments of our Florida National Guard units over the past ten years.
Just as Florida Guardsmen were there when the war in Iraq began, Florida Guardsmen were also some of the last Soldiers to leave the country when the last combat troops withdrew from Iraq. In the early morning of Dec. 18, 2011, Soldiers from the Florida National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment provided security from the air for the ground convoys as the last Soldiers and vehicles exited Iraq.
Caption Photo 1:
Florida National Guard Soldiers from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment took part in the initial invasion of Iraq by clearing two large berms on the border between Iraq and Jordan, allowing Special Forces Soldiers to cross into Iraq. This heritage painting depicts a scene where Spc. Jeffrey Wershow, who was later killed in action in Baghdad, planted the U.S. and Florida flags at the site.
Caption Photo 2:
Chief Warrant Officer Ray Freeman, a pilot with the Florida National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, flies the U.S. Flag over Baghdad in early December as the unit departed Iraq for Kuwait. On Dec. 18, 2011, the 1-111th escorted the last U.S. service members out of Iraq, making them the last Army aviation unit to fly combat missions in support of Operation New Dawn. Contributed photo
Lt Col James Evans
Director, Public Affairs
Florida National Guard
82 Marine Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084