FORT POLK, La. -- As American public consciousness shifts toward the war in Afghanistan, where, in 2001, the U.S. made its first retaliatory attacks after the tragedy of 9-11, Fort Polk units are in the thick of the action.

The Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk and the local community gave a warrior's send-off to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Sept. 30 at Honor Field. The brigade combat team, nicknamed "The Patriot Brigade," seemed to fill the parade field as the massed battalions marched to their places in new "multi-cam" uniforms. The atmosphere was electric: Soldiers anticipating a deployment they've been training for since they returned from Iraq in 2008, Families tearful - but proud, and grateful community members showing support.

The sun glinted off of the instruments of the 10th Mountain Division band as military cadences wafted across the grandstands and the Soldiers stood in immovable rows across the grass. Maj. Gen. James Terry, commander, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., reminded the troops of their history and encouraged them to serve proudly. "Since 9-11, the 10th Mountain Division has been at the center of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "This brigade stood up in January 2005 and has a commendable history that has added to the proud legacy of the 10th Mtn Div and to the legacy of Fort Polk. In that time they have accomplished three tough missions: Disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; spread units across Afghanistan in 2006-2007, which laid the framework for the transition to NATO forces in the south; and most recently a deployment to Baghdad, Iraq in 2007-2008.

"You'll need to draw on all these successful experiences and your training as you once again partner with the national army and police forces of Afghanistan. This is your proud legacy and you will continue to build on it."

The 4-10 is deploying to the eastern portion of Afghanistan, a mountainous and remote area where the Taliban has proved to be a tough enemy. The high altitude, steep terrain and scarcity of infrastructure combine to make a difficult operating environment. "The operational environment is different from what you experienced in Iraq," Terry warned the Soldiers. "The mountains of Hindu Kush and the insurgents there can be unforgiving, but I'm confident that you all are ready for the challenges that lay ahead."

Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, said this deployment comes at a critical time. "This deployment is not just about replacing a brigade in theater," he said. "This mission, at this time, by this unit, is going to be critical to the success of our campaign in Afghanistan.

"Let's remember what we've done so far. We're eliminating the enemy forces. We're taking Taliban leaders off the street quicker than they can put them on. Last week, senior Taliban officials approached the government of Afghanistan to talk about reconciliation. That's a good sign in my opinion. Afghanistan's new government is taking more responsibility every day, their security forces are becoming bigger and more effective."

Yarbrough recalled the U.S. success in Iraq. "Don't forget how grim the situation was in 2007 in Iraq: A lot of people said it couldn't be done.'It's too hard, too many deaths, too many years.' That's when we doubled our efforts," he said. "What made the difference in Iraq is when the people and the enemy figured out that the U.S. wasn't leaving until the job was done. We're going to do the same thing in Afghanistan."

The brigade completed training at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in 2009 and a rotation at JRTC in July. "No brigade is better prepared than this one," Yarbrough said. "We've put 21 brigades through their mission readiness exercises since I've been here, and not one did better than the Patriots did in July."

Col. Bruce Antonia, commander, 4th BCT, 10th Mountain Division, said he is confident in his troops. "We are ready for this endeavor," he said. "For the past 21 months these warriors have trained together to form a cohesive team, ready for any challenge that awaits us. We will take care of each other."

The crowd that gathered to send off the brigade included residents and leaders of the local community. Robert Rose, mayor of Leesville, explained that he served in the Army and understood the Soldiers' position. "We are proud of your commitment to serve and represent our nation, this installation and our communities," he said. "Your mission is difficult, dangerous and not without risk." Ron Roberts, mayor of DeRidder, echoed Rose's sentiment with a quote: "'If we will strive in everything we do to put a little more joy into life than we take out of it, this will be a better world for everyone.' You are the protectors of this privilege we have of bringing joy into the lives of others," he said. "We thank you for performing this courageous task. May the gratitude of all peace-loving people be with you wherever you go."

The families of the deploying Soldiers were also recognized for their part in supporting their troops. "Your journey is equally difficult," Rose said. "You watch your loved ones go into harm's way and shoulder the task of raising a Family while they are gone. Never forget that most of your neighbors on and off post have been in your place. You are not alone. Our city and region stands ready to make you successful."

Yarbrough said he would ensure the Soldiers' loved ones were cared for, and addressed the Families: "We know the sacrifice you make. You've got the tough job, living with uncertainty every day, hanging on the news reports," he said. "Please know that your country understands the level of your sacrifice. This mission is critical and we can't succeed without you. Your strength and encouragement is helping us win this war. Don't stop."

Terry reminded the Soldiers and families the brigade's mission is a positive one. "The eyes of this nation and the world will be on you as you shape Afghanistan to be a better place. Depart with the thanks of a grateful nation," he said.
"We look forward to seeing each of you on this parade field a year from now, mission accomplished, home safe," Yarbrough said.

Page last updated Tue October 12th, 2010 at 12:10