By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Nov. 30 will be a "substantial day" in 15th Sustainment Brigade's history, its commander said last week at Fort Hood.
The 13th Sustainment Command's brigade, which returned to Fort Hood from Iraq in late May and early June, is set to relocate to Fort Bliss. The move is expected to be complete when the brigade changes command and cases its colors during a Nov. 30 ceremony at Fort Hood. Also during the ceremony, the brigade's Special Troops Battalion will get a new leader.
The brigade has been at Fort Hood since the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division, said Col. Larry Phelps, the brigade's commander, and shares its history.
The 1st Cavalry was formally activated on Sept. 13, 1921, at Fort Bliss, according to information from the division.
Though the brigade is relocating, it won't lose distinctive traditions that were established at Fort Hood.
"Oh yes, we will definitely keep the patch and the Stetson," Phelps said last week at Fort Hood.
While the move will be easy physically, it will be hard emotionally, Phelps said, because the brigade has established strong relationships with the local communities, especially its partner city, Belton. The brigade has "really been wired into Central Texas," Phelps said, and it is appreciative of the bond between it and the communities.
The current leaders have talked to the incoming leaders about those bonds so they understand the value of the relationships the brigade has in Central Texas, Phelps said.
The brigade's relocation is part of a 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission decision for the Army's active-duty sustainment brigades, and is one of the last moves in that plan to occur, Phelps said.
Fort Hood leaders learned in 2005 that one of the post's two sustainment brigades - the 15th and 4th Sustainment Brigade - would move to Fort Bliss, but didn't find out until about two years ago which one would go. The 15th's arrival at Fort Bliss was aligned with the arrival of the 1st Armored Division there, Phelps said.
Deploying from Fort Hood
The brigade deployed to Iraq for the third time in September 2009. Its soldiers settled on Contingency Operating Location Q-West and helped lead the sustainment mission in northern and central Iraq. The brigade took on more responsibilities than any other sustainment brigade in the history of the Iraq war, Brig. Gen. Paul Wentz, 13th Sustainment commander, said in May.
The brigade took over an area that once was supported by three sustainment brigades.
The 15th also began work on closing Q-West and handing that area over to Iraq's government. Phelps and the brigade's senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Nathaniel Bartee, handed that mission over May 25 to the 3rd Sustainment Brigade of Fort Stewart, Ga., according to information from the 15th.
The brigade departed Fort Hood with leaders expecting a 12-month deployment. It was announced in the spring that the soldiers would return several months ahead of schedule. "15th Sustainment Brigade's early return is what winning in Iraq is all about," Phelps said then.
The first flight of soldiers returned in late May.
Planning the move
Leaders from the 15th Sustainment started work on the brigade's move while still in Iraq. The first group of soldiers were sent July 15 to Fort Bliss to prepare for the relocation, Phelps said.
They were greeted by soldiers from the 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which relocated May 19, 2009, from Fort Polk, La., to Fort Bliss, according to information from the Army. The battalion will fall under the brigade, which will retain its Special Troops Battalion and Financial Management Company.
The flow of soldiers new to the brigade stopped coming to Fort Hood one month ago and those men and women instead reported to Fort Bliss, Phelps said.
The brigade's deployable size is 375 soldiers, and about 100 of those soldiers at Fort Hood will make the move to Fort Bliss. The rest will follow a typical post-deployment round of permanent changes of station, expirations of time of service and retirements. The rest will be reassigned to other units at Fort Hood.
The brigade will be at about 65 percent strength when its colors are uncased at Fort Bliss, Phelps said.
Getting the word out
Every soldier in the brigade has an individual plan in relation to the relocation, Phelps said. Officials tried to work with everyone's request and he said they were "relatively successful in doing that."
Every duty station change is painful, said Phelps, who has experienced 17 with his family in his career. Installation agencies on either side of Texas lead farewell and welcome briefings, and with the help of relocation and school liaisons, the brigade's soldiers and families will be integrated quickly at Fort Bliss, Phelps said.
There is a push to get those with school-age children in the area and settled in time for an Aug. 23 school start date.
The soldiers will advance from the brigade's relocation phase in March 2011 and are set to conduct training through September, Phelps said, because the Army can't afford to have one of its few sustainment brigades "out of pocket" for a long time because of a move.
The brigade hosts two information sessions, called Wagonmaster Shoutouts, each month for its soldiers. Officials also answer questions about the move for families and other loved ones on the brigade's website, www.supporttheaction.net.
Because the brigade's personnel move is set to be complete by the time its colors are cased in November, the brigade won't leave behind a group of its soldiers to finish the final push like the 4th Infantry Division and 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team did when they departed Fort Hood. Brigade officials learned a lot from watching those moves, Phelps said.
Phelps will relinquish command of the brigade to Lt. Col. (promotable) James Ryan on Nov. 30. Lt. Col. Paula Lodi commands the Special Troops Battalion, and her replacement was unknown as of last week. Bartee and his family will move with the brigade to Fort Bliss.
"There's a lot of discussion about what I'm going to do next," Phelps said.
Regardless of the decision, Phelps and his family will remain in the area as there is "nothing to pull us away from our Fort Hood and Central Texas family," he said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.