As it has time and time again for more than 150 years, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment is preparing to ride into the danger zone.
This time, it’s Afghanistan, a country the Brave Rifles have been to before.
Army officials confirmed last week that 1,000 troopers from the regiment are heading to the war-torn country in late spring.
“The 3rd Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood ... will deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in spring 2016,” according to an Army release.
The memo did not specify which squadron or squadrons within the regiment will deploy. All told, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment has more than 4,000 soldiers stationed at Fort Hood.
Most of the regiment, which is equipped with over 600 wheeled armored vehicles known as Strykers, is finishing up a one-month training mission at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
Sharpening the saber at NTC
“NTC provides that ability to face a uniformed enemy element with the same capabilities as us, so we can fully prepare for any mission or deployment we may encounter,” said Maj. Frank Hooker, the regiment’s executive officer.
More than 6,000 soldiers and government employees deployed in support of the Brave Rifles’ mission at NTC.
“The reason we bring all of these elements here is for the training value,” Hooker said. “We wouldn’t necessarily have these assets organic to ourselves, but we would have them when we deploy.”
A delegation of Central Texas community and business leaders visited the Fort Hood troops at NTC in late February to watch the training. The delegation included U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin.
“In the midst of so much uncertainty in the world I am thankful that our nation has such dedicated soldiers working so hard to protect us,” Williams said. “It is imperative that we give these brave men and women the resources they need to ensure they remain ahead of the enemy when they take the fight overseas.”
While in California, Williams watched a training simulation that pitted the 3rd Cavalry troopers against the mock enemy combatants.
“This is the kind of training that makes America’s soldiers the greatest in the world,” Williams said.
As part of the NTC scenario, the Brave Rifles were deployed to a fictional country — Atropia — to assist its citizens from a fictional enemy force — the Donovians.
In the scenario, the fictional country of Donovia wants to dissolve the sovereignty of Atropia though the use of propaganda and militia forces, with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment playing the opposing “enemy” force.
“Generally, we have the same assets that the unit receiving the training has in order to simulate force-on-force; it helps to add a realistic feel to training,” said Capt. Joseph Barnes, a planner with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which provided the “enemy” training force at NTC.
Unlike many previous NTC rotations that focused on counterinsurgency, this rotation was a decisive action mission.
“One of the misconceptions is that the decisive action mission doesn’t incorporate a counterinsurgency mission, but it does,” said Hooker. “Some of the same areas we actually combat against in a deployed counterinsurgency environment is what we’ve done out here in a decisive action rotation.”
What does a decisive action mission look like at NTC?
The Brave Rifles strategically placed a conglomerate of combat assets in a “new” environment to solve tactical problems based off of threats across the Army’s operational environment, versus training off of well-known deployment locations.
“Our mission was to defend the borders from the enemies of Atropia and provide assistance to the Atropian government,” said Hooker.
It’s a scenario the 3rd Cavalry troopers may see in Afghanistan, and the soldiers say they are ready.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, we are ready for whatever mission that we deploy to because of the training we received at NTC,” Hooker said.
The regiment falls under the command of Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division.
“Since 1846, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment has answered when our Army called. Now they are called again, to support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan,” said 1st Cavalry Division commander Maj. Gen. John Thomson III in a statement to the Herald last week. “The troopers of the regiment are well trained, well equipped, and most importantly well-led. They are absolutely ready for this important mission.”
The regiment last went to Afghanistan in June 2014, when 2,200 troopers were deployed for nine months.
The upcoming deployment is also expected to last nine months, according to 1st Cavalry Division officials.
Currently, there are about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, serving in an advisory and assistance role to their Afghan counterparts.
President Barack Obama said in October that he plans to lower the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 “by the end of 2016,” although he didn’t specify exactly when. The smaller force would still be expected to handle the twin duties of training the Afghans and counterterrorism.
The planned drop has drawn criticism from Gen. John F. Campbell, who ended his tenure as the top American commander in Afghanistan last week. He was replaced by Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr.
Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee in early February that “very little” training will be done with fewer American forces.
Campbell, who is planning to retire from military service, told the committee he is preparing to go down to 5,500 “as I am ordered.” He said the decision to announce the troop withdrawals was a policy decision and not a military one.
“Ultimately the president makes the decision, and that’s the policy that we follow,” Campbell said. “We follow orders. If it’s not immoral, (if) it’s not illegal, then you’ve got to do to the best of your ability to make sure that you can accomplish the mission.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it’s unrealistic to expect a reduced force to handle the dual mission of training the Afghans and counterterrorism.
“This smaller American force will inevitably be forced to shoulder a higher level of risk to themselves, to their mission and to the national security of the United States,” McCain said.
Initially, Obama had said he would trim the U.S. force in Afghanistan to 5,500 troops by the end of 2015, and then down to 1,000 by the end of 2016. But Obama backtracked, saying the situation remained too fragile for such a rapid withdrawal.
During the command-change ceremony March 2, Campbell said the ceremony really was about continuity.
It is “the continuation of our commitment to Afghanistan,” he said. “We ask ourselves every day: What more can we do for Afghanistan and what more can we help them to do for themselves? These simple questions are at the heart of what we do and what drives our mission here.”
Nicholson also delivered a short message to Afghanistan’s enemies. “I know you,” he said. “You have only brought hardship and suffering to the Afghan people.”
To the Afghan people, Nicholson said all at the ceremony recognize the “bravery, strength and heroism of the Afghan people.”
Nicholson said it is an honor to serve with Afghan and coalition partners again.
“Yes, we have a tough path in front of us,” he said. “But with your courage, all things are possible. So I say, let us go forward with courage.”
After the Army informed Congress of the deployment last week, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, issued a statement on the upcoming mission for Fort Hood troops.
“We have the greatest military in the world, and I have the utmost faith in Gen. Nicholson ... who will soon lead our joint forces and ensure Afghanistan never returns to a hotbed and safe haven for terrorists,” Carter said. “I wish these soldiers God Speed and a safe return. They and their families will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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