JRTC, Fort Polk to experience growth spurt
October 6, 2008
By CHUCK CANNON
Saying the future of the post could not be any brighter, Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, announced that the Army's recently activated 162nd Infantry Training Brigade will call the sprawling Vernon Parish installation its new home.
The 162nd Inf Training Bde, commanded by Col. Rick Bloss, will be tasked with training Foreign Security Force Transition Teams, 11-16 man teams of specialists who will embed with foreign security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The training is currently under the auspices of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan. The 162nd takes over Aug. 31, 2009.
"We've had combat advisors in every war since World War II," Yarbrough said. "As an Army, we let that skill go dormant after the Vietnam Conflict."
However, Yarbrough said the concept of advisors remained in the back of the minds of Army senior leadership. "When we spooled up for the Afghanistan invasion, and then on a much larger scale in Iraq, we recognized that the operation must be followed by embedding advisors in those now defunct security forces. That builds their effectiveness and capabilities back up so that we can transition responsibility for securing the population from the United States to the host nation home team forces," Yarbrough said.
The Army began training FSFTTs in 2004 and today there are about 3,500 advisors in Iraq, Yarbrough said.
"We have advisors in every battalion-sized formation and larger," he said. "We're doing the same thing in Afghanistan, except on a smaller scale."
The new unit will bring Fort Polk's troop strength to about 10,000, Yarbrough said. Counting Family members, the Fort Polk community will number about 25,000. The new brigade will consist of five battalions with cadre and staff totaling 820 Soldiers. Some of the Soldiers have already begun to arrive at Fort Polk with about 270 expected by spring 2009.
"In addition, there will be tasks that are contracted," Yarbrough said. "Everything we cannot put a Soldier against, we'll attempt to contract."
In addition to the permanent party cadre, it's anticipated that about 5,000 potential combat advisors will rotate through the 60-day course on an annual basis, Yarbrough said.
"That's the load to satisfy current mission requirements," he said.
"We will have multiple sessions going at the same time, so during peak periods we could have as many as 1,800 advisors on post."
To jump-start construction for the new unit's home, the Army has allocated about $100 million, Yarbrough said. That's a significant infusion for the local economy.
"We're going to have some growth come out of this," he said.
"Those are folks who are going to be buying gas, going to restaurants and shopping at stores here and participating in community activities, and they'll split like the rest of our population (living) both on post and off post. That's an enduring presence."
Yarbrough said the decision comes on the heels of the Army's investment of more than $200 million to improve Fort Polk's infrastructure.
He called the new unit and mission a "perfect fit" for Fort Polk.
"We are delighted," he said.
"The Army counts on us for rigorous, realistic training.
"We're here to stay, we're on the map, and the Army's going to keep us as a quality-life institution for what our Soldiers deserve ... and now they're going to add to it with this near-term, fast-evolving, important task.
"The future couldn't look any brighter, in my mind. I think this is a great decision for Fort Polk, certainly, perhaps even a greater decision for our local, surrounding communities, and it's a great decision for the Army."