Army reverses Spartan brigade cuts, announces Afghanistan deployment

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 13:43
  • Star file photo/Matt Tunseth Members of the U.S. Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division jump out of a plane during a training exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in June, 2013.
  • Paratroopers with the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division salute during a change of command ceremony Friday, March 24, 2017 on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. Col. Paul Larson took command from Col. Scott Green, who had led the brigade since 2014. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Star file photo/Matt Tunseth Members of the U.S. Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division during a training exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in June, 2013.
  • Members of the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division during a training exercise on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in June, 2013. (Star file photo/Matt Tunseth)
  • Col. Paul Larson, left, takes the colors from Maj. Gen. Bryan Owens, Commanding General of U.S. Army Alaska, during a change of command ceremony for the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division on Friday, March 24, 2017 on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. During the ceremony, Col. Paul Larson took command from Col. Scott Green, who had led the brigade since 2014. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Paratroopers with the Army’s “Spartan” brigade are heading out …and staying put.

The Army announced on Friday plans to keep the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at its current size while also sending 1,500 members of the 5,000-soldier brigade to Afghanistan.

In 2015, the Army announced the brigade would be downsized and converted to an airborne task force.

“The plan to retain 4/25 is based on emerging mission requirements and the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) call for a Regular Army end strength of 476,000 soldiers,” the Army wrote in a press release.

The decision to keep the brigade intact had been widely expected. At a change of command ceremony held on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson last month, outgoing commander Col. Scott Green said the brigade fought hard to keep its current size, and praised the work ethic of the brigade for helping prove its value.

“We won because of you,” he told the paratroopers assembled inside a large hangar on base.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, congressman Don Young, and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz each issued press releases praising the Army’s decision to keep the brigade intact.

“It’s great news that our friends and neighbors in the 4/25 are here to stay,” Berkowitz said.

Sen. Sullivan said Alaska’s congressional delegation worked hard to keep the brigade in place.

“This is an important day for Alaska, and for the national security interest of the United States,” he said. “The decision sends a clear message that our military leaders recognize the emerging security challenges in both the Arctic and the Asia-Pacific, and that our country remains committed to ensuring peace and security through strength in both of these critical regions.”

All three members of Alaska’s delegation made keeping the brigade intact a legislative priority, arguing the brigade’s status as the only airborne brigade in the Pacific make it a vital part of national defense.

The announcement doesn’t mean the “Spartan” brigade is officially here to stay. According to the Army, the brigade could still be reorganized pending federal funding.

“A final decision to retain the Spartan Brigade as a full brigade combat team after its deployment is dependent on receiving an appropriation from Congress commensurate with the increased end strength outlined in the (National Defense Authorization Act),” the Army said.

The deployment orders were also rumored. A June deployment for training to Fort Polk, Louisiana had already been announced, and the Army recently installed Col. Paul Larson as its new commander. Col. Larson has spent much of career in Afghanistan, including six deployments in support of U.S. missions there. A timetable for the Afghanistan deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel has not yet been announced.

At the change of command ceremony, Larson said the brigade is ready to deploy, and said one of his primary concerns will be taking care of the thousands of people who will be left on base.

“We have to be sure the families are taken care of,” he said.

With the training deployment set to begin June 4, Larson said the 4/25 will be extremely busy bunch this spring.

“We have a fairly truncated timetable,” he said.

In a Friday press release, Col. Larson said the 4/25 is up to the challenge.

“We welcome the Army’s decision and are proud of the trust and confidence our senior leaders are placing in the professionalism and dedication of our paratroopers,” he said.

The brigade has seen large-scale deployments to the Middle East three times since 2006, when it was sent to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, a mission that saw 53 Spartans killed in action. The brigade deployed twice to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, including a 2009-10 deployment in which 13 soldiers died and a 2011-12 deployment in which eight Spartans lost their lives.

Maj. Gen. Bryan Owens, commanding general of U.S. Army Alaska, said he has confidence in the paratroopers’ abilities.

“These soldiers train rigorously in a wide range of climates and environments,” he said. “I am fully confident in their ability to excel and overcome any challenges they will face during this deployment.”

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