FORT HOOD — Since 9/11, soldiers and families of the 1st Cavalry Division have been through a steady rhythm of deployments and homecomings.
With more than 20 deployments between the division and its five brigade combat teams completed in the past decade, Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, division commander, sat down with the Killeen Daily Herald to discuss what the coming year will bring for America’s “First Team.”
With one brigade deployed, another preparing to deploy and tending to the battle scars of those years at war, Ierardi said the next year will be active, but he has no doubt 1st Cavalry soldiers will rise to the challenge.
“We have had the opportunity to have most of the division back here at Fort Hood over the last half of the past year,” said the two-star general who took command in June. “It’s an opportunity to reset the force and ... we’ll have other missions that we’ll have to perform for the Army.”
That next mission is in Afghanistan.
The division headquarters and the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade both served tours in the country, and 4th “Long Knife” Brigade Combat Team is beginning a nine-month stint with Regional Command-East.
Long Knife is one of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigades, working with Afghan National Security Forces to enable them to take over the country by the president’s 2014 exit date.
It’s only somewhat similar to the work four of the division’s brigades did near the end of the Iraq War, Ierardi said.
“The operating environment is a much different environment. It’s a different country, a different culture, different set of challenges and opportunities,” he said. “Some of the muscle memory ... I think is helpful as a backdrop, but its got to be put into the right context and the right training for Afghanistan.”
To train for such a mission, Long Knife spent 30 days at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. The division’s 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team is preparing to deploy for the same mission to eastern Afghanistan in 2013 and will visit the training center in March.
“The Army does a great job of sharing lessons, and being able to stay abreast of what the requirements are of warfighting commanders. In the case of JRTC, we work closely with the commander there, who is in almost daily contact with the commanders in Afghanistan ... about how the missions are proceeding and what the requirements are for training for our troops,” Ierardi said. “The teams in Afghanistan, in some cases, sent soldiers back to participate and to make sure 4th Brigade was receiving the training in the proper tasks.”
Third “Greywolf” Brigade Combat Team will also be leaving Fort Hood in January. All of the nearly 4,000 soldiers of the brigade, plus elements of the division headquarters and the air brigade, will spend 30 days at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to conduct decisive action training exercises. Greywolf will be the first Fort Hood unit to train in this new style. Up until 2010 and as needed in 2011, the training center prepared soldiers in counterinsurgency, according to the Fort Irwin public affairs office.
While this does incorporate large conventional warfighting strategies, Ierardi said it’s not accurate to think about that as going back to the way it used to be.
“It’s looking forward to a time where the operating and strategic environment will be much different than it used to be. It’ll be a much more challenging environment with threats that range from state to non-state actors, terrorism to cyber, to other criminal activities that really require our units to have a full-spectrum capability.
“When 3rd Brigade goes to the National Training Center, what they’re going to find is an environment that requires us to operate across a range of military operations,” Ierardi said.
Those include offense, defense, stability operations and combined arms maneuver, “where all of the combat power of the brigade is brought to bear.”
Meanwhile, the brigade is responsible for area-wide security and will be working to stabilize the area and gain greater security to support the overall mission.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the past several years that we don’t want to put aside. We have seasoned leaders, we have soldiers and commanders and leaders that have rotated multiple times into combat and we want to leverage that experience and look forward to what the threats are and adapt our units by taking advantage of a full range of capabilities to do it,” Ierardi said. “We’re going to use all the capabilities we’ve got.”
The division headquarters will be joining Greywolf in California to train setting up a joint task force command. During the headquarters most recent deployment to Afghanistan, Ierardi’s predecessor, Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, commanded a joint-task force of eight U.S., French and Polish units spanning 14 provinces, home to 7.5 million Afghans.
This training opportunity will allow the division to meet the Army Chief of Staff’s requirement for all division headquarters to have this capability.
“We will establish a command post (at the National Training Center) and begin to work the elements of mission command during that field exercise ... to develop capability and capacity inside our division headquarters working our way up to a division warfighter next year,” he said. “It’s a key training event for the division headquarters to stress the headquarters and allow us to operate and exercise mission command in a very complex environment.”
Support at home
First “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team was the last element of the division to return home in July after spending less than half of its year-long deployment in Iraq and the remainder in Kuwait.
Ierardi said Ironhorse will continue along a training path similar to Greywolf’s, while also providing support across Fort Hood for activities that are enhancing for soldiers and leaders.
“They’ll begin to use the great facilities we have here at Fort Hood to build proficiency,” Ierardi said.
In the midst of all this training, Ierardi said there will also be a focus on ensuring soldiers and families are cared for.
“It’s providing an environment where we avail them to the tools that are available to them at Fort Hood ... and enable our soldiers to be resilient in that way,” he said. It’s also about letting soldiers know they won’t be stigmatized for seeking help.
“I’m proud every day of the division and of the work our soldiers do,” Ierardi said. “Our soldiers are really doing tremendous work. I see it when we go to rifle ranges, I see it when we’re out on Battalion Avenue running (physical training), or on gunnery ranges, or in what our soldiers do in the community. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there ... contributing in a very positive way. We’re fortunate to be here in Central Texas where there’s a mutually supportive relationship between the community and soldiers.”