FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, Jan. 19, 2007) - The new strategy announced last week by President Bush forces a minor adjustment that will have a major impact on the next Fort Lewis Stryker brigade scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
But the change will have no effect on the readiness of the Soldiers or their ability to perform their new missions, according to a spokesman for the brigade speaking at a press conference Jan. 11 at I Corps Headquarters.
"We were previously planning to go in May 2007," said 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, executive officer, Maj. Jim Brown. "Now we're going in April. That's not a significant change."
Neither has the primary mission changed - secure the cities to foster political and economic progress in Iraq. However, the slight adjustment in the timetable drives a significant change in the training plan.
The Dragoon Raider Brigade will now conduct its predeployment certification exercise, originally programmed for next month at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., on Fort Lewis instead. Brown acknowledged the "great benefit (NTC) adds to a unit ... with the world-class opposing forces, the observer/controllers and the knowledge and experience they bring, and the facilities they have. It's one-stop shopping."
Without the benefit of a trip to NTC, the brigade will work to recreate the same training intensity in familiar surroundings, drawing on fresh lessons of a field exercise called "Cascadian Commitment."
The brigade on Dec. 13 completed the 10-day FTX that used Fort Lewis as a surrogate Iraqi city.
Brigade public affairs officer, Capt. Mike Garcia, said the exercise used the intrinsic "frictions" of moving among the daily activities of a large installation to produce logistical stresses to inform the tactical scenarios. Performing missions around daily traffic and a host of civilian workers and family members helped to create the kinds of realistic challenges Dragoon Soldiers will face in Iraq's urban settings.
As with that exercise, the next one will again be heavily supported by the community, Brown said, but augmented by outside agencies to evaluate performance.
"We're in discussions with the Joint Readiness Center at Fort Polk to bring their observer/controllers up here and assist us," said the executive officer. "So, it will not be exactly the same (as NTC), but we'll try as closely as possible to replicate those conditions."
Brown said the staff has already started communicating its last-minute training and equipment needs to higher headquarters.
When pressed about whether the so-called "surge" might be pushing the unit into theater before it was ready, Brown was adamant about the brigade's collective preparedness.
"It's always something we've known was going to happen. We knew we were going to deploy, so we've had a long time to prepare for it, both physically through our training, but more important mentally - yourself, your unit, your family members. I feel very confident we've done everything we could possibly do to prepare ourselves and our Soldiers for deployment."
Meanwhile, the brigade commander, Col. Jon Lehr, left with key senior leaders the same morning for a previously scheduled in-theater reconnaissance trip. When they return, the training staff will integrate their observations into the final exercise.
The 4,000 Soldiers of 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., make up the fifth and best-outfitted Stryker brigade to deploy to Iraq. They will be the first to employ in a combat zone all 10 variants of Stryker vehicles, including the two newest - the mobile gun system and the nuclear, biological, chemical reconnaissance vehicle. They will also take the Land Warrior System that Brown said "provides a level of situational awareness to the individual Soldier at the fire team level that has been dreamed of for years but is finally coming true."
Despite the shortened lead time, Brown said the Soldiers, NCOs and officers are ready.
"The Dragoon Raider Brigade is fully manned, equipped and ready for deployment," Brown said. "The senior officers and noncommissioned officers in the brigade, who have served the Army for many years, including multiple combat tours, agree this is the best-trained unit they've ever led. Our Soldiers have extensive training in maneuver, live-fire, Arabic language and culture."
The brigade has invested considerable time and money to train Soldiers in basic Arabic as well as customs and courtesies. "Language-enabled Soldiers" are scattered throughout the brigade to assist 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., leaders down to the small-unit level.