By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
The 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team was supposed to deploy in November and December, but word came down from the Department of the Army in late October that the brigade wouldn’t leave until after the new year. Now those soldiers and families are preparing for a March leave time.
“I’m really happy that we got that time,” said Col. Ted Martin, Raider Brigade commander.
The change was likely based on the then-current situation in Iraq, and with troop drawdowns and re-alignments, the Army didn’t need 1st Brigade until March, Col. Steven Stover, a division spokesman, said in late October. It was the success of the troop surge that pushed the deployment back, Martin said.
That delay gave the soldiers of the brigade’s six battalions — the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment; 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment; 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment; 4th Support Battalion; and 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion — more time to train and conduct the last-minute preparation necessary before deploying.
The brigade spent a month at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in August and September, and leaders were able to take the lessons learned during that rotation and apply them to training once they got back to Fort Hood. Instead of the few months they had before, soldiers had about six months to sharpen their skills. It also provided time to work on what Martin called a “wish list” of training that included focusing on the Arabic language. As of last week, more than 60 of the brigade’s soldiers were taking a three-week course of “high-quality language training,” Martin said. At the end of this month, some will also take a trip to the University of Texas, where they will get courses on culture, infrastructure and rebuilding.
The extra time also allowed for another block leave and platoon mounted and dismounted training the soldiers would not have time to do otherwise.
Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery completed some of that last week with a dismounted live-fire exercise. Dismounted means the soldiers were out of their vehicles and conducting operations on foot. Mounted means they are in vehicles. This type of exercise allowed soldiers to practice approaching targets at individual, team, section and squad levels, said Lt. Col. Doug Kirby, the battalion’s commander.
These are skills every soldier needs to have in case they come in contact with the enemy, he added. The soldiers were given a mission, moved down a road, reacted to “enemy fire” and simulated roadside bombs, performed casualty evacuations and medical treatments, took out a target then secured an objective.
The point was to get these solders used to firing their weapons as their buddies moved alongside them, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams, the battalion’s senior noncommissioned officer. These field artillery soldiers don’t get to do that a lot, he added, and it takes some getting used to and the live fire just builds their confidence in that task.
This training was nothing new and perhaps even a bit mundane to Staff Sgt. Mark Thomas, a soldier in the battalion who is getting ready for his third deployment. But, he said, there can never be enough training for the “new guys.” When the training gets to be monotonous to the unit’s veterans, he just thinks about the new guys and how this sort of thing is preparing them for Iraq.
About half of the battalion’s soldiers have deployed before, Kirby said, a few of them to Afghanistan, but mostly to Iraq. Before the end of 2007, the battalion got a new batch of soldiers — most of them straight from Basic and Advanced Individual Training.
The brigade continues to receive new soldiers, said Maj. Philip Secrist, the rear detachment commander. He estimated that 45-60 arrive a month.
Those soldiers will continue to arrive six months into the deployment. Those who don’t leave with the brigade next month will deploy as individual replacement troops. One of the rear detachment’s responsibilities is preparing these soldiers for their units downrange.
Other duties of the brigade’s rear detachment, which was put in place Summer 2007 and operated when the soldiers deployed to the National Training Center, include taking care of family members and wounded soldiers and making arrangements for soldiers killed in action.
The brigade hosted an open house for its family readiness center on Jan. 31. The center has computer equipment, including Web cameras and free Internet access, a conference room and kitchenette for families and soldiers to use during the deployment. The center is located in building 293 in the modular buildings adjacent to 761st Tank Battalion Avenue and 37th Street, across from the Phantom Warrior Center, according to information from the brigade’s Public Affairs Office.
A team of 60 soldiers will assist Secrist, and that includes five from the 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, said Capt. Derrick Shannonhouse, a battalion officer.
Brigade leaders met with their counterparts in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in October to exchange information. They also have Army handbooks and manuals that were developed within the last few years to help commanders lead rear detachments.
Secrist said the most challenging part of his job in the next year will be casualty operations.
“It’s just a hard experience,” he said. “When you’re deployed, it was a buddy, comrade in arms. You didn’t see how it affected folks back home.
“It’s going to be tough.”
For the deploying brigade, most of the hard work is done, Martin said. The goal now is to stay safe and focused since transitions are the most dangerous time for a unit, he said.
He recently returned from a trip to Iraq where he and other brigade leaders met with division officials, including Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond, 4th Infantry commander. Martin also met with the brigade he and his soldiers are set to replace: the 1st Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Fourth Infantry units already in Iraq include the Headquarters, Special Troops Battalion and Fort Carson, Colo.-based 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The 4th Brigade Combat Team and Combat Aviation Brigade are set to deploy this summer. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which relocated to Fort Carson, Colo., in June 2007, has orders to deploy in 2009.
The division took over Multinational Division-Baghdad from the 1st Cavalry in November 2006, its third deployment to the war in Iraq. Its soldiers returned to Fort Hood from the last deployment in late 2006.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7547
The 4th Infantry’s 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office contributed to this report.