Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fort Riley brigade prepares for combat

April 19, 2007

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— With 6,000 Fort Riley soldiers already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, another brigade from the eastern Kansas post has come a step closer to going overseas.

The occasion was the formal transformation Tuesday of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division from its recent mission of training soldiers to be advisers to the Afghanistan army to that of a modular brigade combat team. Three units were activated on the Cavalry Parade Field, complete with ceremonial cannon fire. In a year, the shells will be real.

"All of us know we need all the units we can muster," said Brig. Gen. Jim Yarbrough, assistant commander for operations of Fort Riley's 1st Infantry Division. "The Army's going to ask you to deploy. You have all the resources you need, but time is short.

"We're in a sustained fight, we're doing quite well at it, and we have no choice but try to get all hands on deck, get all units available activated and prepared to go to fight."

The ceremony came the same day the Pentagon announced the death of two more Fort Riley soldiers in Iraq, bringing the total to 93 since the war started.

Killed were Pfc. Steven J. Walberg, 18, of Paradise, Calif., who died Sunday in Baghdad from small arms fire, and Pfc. Aaron M. Genevie, 22, of Chambersburg, Pa., who died Monday in Baghdad when his vehicle struck a bomb. Both were with 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

Units from the 3rd Brigade were some of the first to cross into Iraq in the initial invasion in 2003. The brigade was deployed a second time in 2005. Last year, it was streamlined from its ranks of more than 3,400 to a small group of less than 600 as it shifted its mission to training transition teams.

Col. Norb Jocz, 3rd Brigade commander, said the plans always were to convert the brigade to a heavy combat unit, meaning it would have the Army's M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. However, because of the war's demands, plans were accelerated by a year.

The bulk of the soldiers are fresh from basic training, though Jocz said there are some who were previously in the Army Reserves and National Guard. The brigade will see a big increase in its numbers this month, eventually topping out around 3,800 soldiers. It also will get a new name later this year, becoming the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which currently is fighting in Iraq.

"People are very excited to get new soldiers and to start training to prepare ourselves," Jocz said. "Of course, there's the normal hiccups, but we're all smiling about it."

The brigade's transformation is part of the Army's strategy to assemble modular units that can deploy on short notice. Now, brigades are larger. The Army also has added 10 brigades in the last year.

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