KIRKUK, Iraq - Since the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, thousands of soldiers witnessed progress throughout their deployments to Iraq.
For Sgt. Kevin Chapman, a squad leader with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division, being a part of the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn shaped his career as a soldier.
Chapman said he always wanted to serve in the armed forces, and enlisted in the Army in 2005.
"I joined the Army to try to make a difference for my country," said the Conyers native. "I knew it was something I could make a career out of and do for the rest of my life."
Deploying from 2005 to 2007 with 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, from Friedberg, Germany, Chapman said he served as a gunner for the mortar platoon, but was later tasked as the radio and telephone operator in the fire direction center.
After the deployment, Chapman was reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he currently serves.
After deploying twice during the middle and latter parts of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chapman said his current tour in support of Operation New Dawn is different because of U.S. forces' current role to advise Iraqi Security Forces.
"During my first deployment we did presence patrols and terrain denial," said Chapman. "We would go out to show we were there and we were a force. We were more aggressive during the (my first tour) and we didn't work directly with the ISF."
Chapman said he saw the transition in operations begin during his second deployment in 2008.
"In 2008 and 2009, I witnessed transition," said Chapman. "After the agreements between the U.S. and Iraq, we had to have an ISF counterpart with us, and we worked closely with them, training them on how to shoot mortars."
"Instead of being the dominant force and telling them what to do and how to do it, we asked for suggestions and their opinions on the training we gave," he said.
U.S. and Iraqi forces cooperated and combined strengths to develop training and mission schedules, while letting Iraqis take the lead, he added.
Spc. John Charles, one of Chapman's squad members, said prior experiences definitely influence Chapman's ability to be a leader.
"He gets a lot of responsibility dumped on him, more than anybody else, and he handles it with a sense of humor and a pride about him that I've not seen from another soldier," said Charles, a native of Houston.
Chapman consistently performs above his current rank, Charles added.
Now, with the mission of an advise and assist task force, Chapman said it is important for U.S. forces to teach the ISF to maintain an active presence in their country.
"We want them to take the reins, step in and continue taking over everything we do," said Chapman. "It's important for us to teach and show them, and hopefully when we leave, they will be better able to utilize the training we've given them and it will continue making them better."