Fort Lewis Stryker brigade marks its departure for Afghanistan
July 6, 2009
By Don Kramer
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The six battalions and cavalry squadron that make up 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division formed on Watkins Field June 19, signaling the end of preparations for war by "the most advanced ground combat formation in history," according to their commander.
Executive Officer and Commander of Troops, Maj. James Dooghan, reported to the brigade commander to start a ceremony devoid of many of the formal trappings typical of deployments. The nearly 4,000 Soldiers stood at parade rest to hear messages of encouragement from Brigade Commander Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV and I Corps Deputy Commanding General Brig. Gen. Jeff W. Mathis III.
Tunnell highlighted the multiple transitions the day represented: after two and a half years of preparation, training was done; the rear-detachment assumed command responsibility; the brigade was departing; and for individuals, their evolution from Soldiers to warriors was complete - the same personal transitions made by countless American Soldiers of the past.
"The war against today's Islamic totalitarian enemy is no different," Tunnell said. "It requires the same kind of men and women with the same steel that have served America's cause of freedom for generations. It is an awe-inspiring thought when one realizes that such devoted men and women make up the team that stands in formation today."
The stands and pavilions on Watkins Field were full of family members, with whom the brigade's family readiness groups have worked to prepare for the coming year with predeployment fairs and empowerment expos.
Some have experience in coping with the separation required by combat deployments. They also contemplate transitions.
Nicole Brundage, the wife of Capt. Patrick Brundage, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry intelligence officer, said she has been through the drill before.
"It's the second time that he's deployed," she said. "I wasn't married to him his first deployment, but I was with him."
The couple was engaged during Brundage's first combat tour and will be apart for their first wedding anniversary Aug. 2 during his second deployment.
"You get used to it," she said of the separation. The new bride stayed at home with family in Indiana during the first tour, but this time will return to the couple's DuPont home for her final semester of college. She plans to teach preschool-through-2nd-grade children, and to avail herself of her battalion FRG support system.
"Me and the wives, that's my help system right there," Nicole Brundage said, "because they're going through the same thing. It helps a lot."
Tyreise Henry was on hand with his two daughters - Adriana, 11 months, and Mkayla, 4. Henry will have another opportunity to be a single dad, with his wife, Sgt. Leilani Henry, 402nd BSB, deploying for the second time. Her first to Iraq lasted 14 months.
Henry said he had done "everything we could" to prepare, including attending a predeployment fair the week before. "Her being away from the girls, being far away from family," he said, will be the most difficult thing to cope with during the year.
Whitney Izzo will soon experience her first deployment-related separation.
"This is all new to me," she said, looking out at the brigade formation.
Engaged to 2nd Lt. James Johnson in C Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Izzo said she will work in California near family and friends while waiting out her fiancAfA's tour in Afghanistan.
"(I'm dreading this) absolutely, but I'm just trying to make the best of it," Izzo said. "That's what (my fiance) would want me to do."
She will return to Fort Lewis upon Johnson's redeployment to marry the West Point graduate and "get organized," resuming their lives together and putting her master's degree in art history to use.
Katy Hansen and her husband, Spc. Aren Hansen, prepared by doing a home inventory and repairing everything that looked as though it might fail or break.
"The last few months, we've tried fixing everything wrong with the house so I don't have to worry," she said.
She and 10-month-old Shelden came to see off Hansen on his first deployment. Katy plans to stay busy with their son during the coming year.
"I'm part of a mom-and-tot group for military moms," she said. "We can get together with our kids. A lot of the moms have been through deployments before, so they can help with advice and different resources."
At this point, she said, she wants the deployment to start soon - to hasten the countdown until it ends.
"I'm really sad now but I just want it to happen," she said. "It will be a big weight off our shoulders after he leaves and comes home safe."
In February, the Destroyer Brigade experienced its most visible transition; the Department of Defense announced a change in the Destroyer Brigade's destination from Iraq to Afghanistan.
"One hundred twenty days ago, you received a complete change in your mission," Mathis said. "You took on that change and drove on more determined than before."
Since its mission readiness exercise, the brigade has worked continuously to retool for Afghanistan. Fifty of its recently trained Arabic linguists underwent intensive instruction in Pashtu, to augment native-speaking interpreters.
Otherwise, 5th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. Soldiers will employ the most sophisticated tactical systems on the battlefield, using state-of-the-art technology to maximize intelligence and operational capabilities.
The brigade soon begins moving in echelons to southern Afghanistan to the birthplace of the Taliban, the reactionary, militant Islamic party that nurtured al-Qaida while it planned attacks on the United States a decade ago.
"As we deploy, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on our nation were inspired and resourced by men living in Afghanistan," Tunnell said. "There is no better place to serve than in South Asia."
Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.