Troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division are training for missions outside of Iraq or Afghanistan for the first time in a dozen years.
In the Army’s new structure to regionally align forces to support combatant commanders’ needs across the globe, trips to Europe and Korea could be possible for some soldiers.
Army officials described the concept of “regional alignment” as a response to the increasing complexity of the global security environment that ensures responsiveness, consistent availability and a higher level of training and expertise.
The alignments are made for one calendar year and beginning in 2014, the First Team will be divided among three different areas of operation: the division headquarters will align with U.S. Central Command in the Middle East, 1st Brigade Combat Team will support U.S. European Command and 3rd Brigade will link up with U.S. Pacific Command.
“I think what it does is it provides us focus,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, division commander. “This provides us a requirement to train our forces and compete for resources in (a time of) increasingly fewer resources. So at Fort Hood, we really do remain relevant, through regionally aligned forces and the way the Army has given Fort Hood and 1st Cavalry Division these missions.”
The division’s 2nd Brigade is currently deployed to Afghanistan and not involved in an alignment next year. Fourth Brigade is expected to inactivate by the end of this year.
While 3rd Brigade hasn’t announced what its alignment will bring, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade is already well into preparation for its requirements in the European theater, said Col. Steve Gilland, brigade commander. The mission includes serving as a maneuver element for the European Response Force, and also as part of the NATO Response Force.
“Because of the reduction in forces in Europe, specifically of armored brigade combat teams, there are only two brigades that remain in Europe,” Gilland said. “We were focused on Iraq and (Central Command) for many years. This is a refocusing; it’s a reorientation of our responsibilities. Our mission is a little different and it allows us to learn and broaden our horizons.”
In November, Ironhorse will send a contingency of its brigade headquarters and a battalion headquarters element to participate in Steadfast Jazz, a NATO training exercise in Poland.
This is the first time the U.S. has offered a unit to participate, said Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command in Turkey.
The response force is about a decade old, and has been used in situations such as the flooding in Pakistan in 2010. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has not been as active in this part of NATO, Hodges said.
“My premise is that the U.S. is never going to do anything by itself again” he said. “Not just for political reasons ... but we’ve learned other nations have insight and experience in regions of the world where we might have to conduct operations.
Other NATO countries have legacies there.”
Maj. Matt Hopper, Ironhorse operations officer, said he has truly enjoyed this aspect of the regional alignment. To prepare for interacting with so many countries, the brigade has undergone extensive culture training and classes to understand NATO doctrine.
“The command post exercises are a learning environment where it’s OK to make mistakes; it’s OK to learn,” Hopper said. “You can communicate with your partners who have very different experience and learn and develop, and I think it’s an opportunity for experiences I know that I personally have never had. I look forward to it and the rest of the staff look forward to it.”
Hodges said he hopes there is clear and visible success in the upcoming rotation, to ensure those training dollars remain available for units such as Ironhorse to experience working with NATO outside the continental U.S.
“Even as we get smaller and budget pressures (continue), (the Army will) look at where to make investments that have a strategic effect,” Hodges said. “The relationships and common understanding you get with alliance, you don’t get overnight. ... You can’t surge relationships; those take time.”
First Brigade’s February rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., will incorporate flavors of the unit’s two missions in Europe, Hopper said. Then in May and June, the brigade will send a battalion task force sized element to provide as the rotational force to European Command for a training exercise.
“As the Great Place has been oriented on Iraq for many years, followed by Afghanistan and continued to remain focused on Afghanistan, as the commanding general said, the Great Place also is fulfilling requirements globally,” Gilland said. “I think that what that says about Fort Hood and Third Corps is that there is a force here that can be tailored to meet any mission.”