VICENZA, Italy -- The 173rd Airborne Brigade conducted a Change of Command ceremony at Caserma Del Din here July 9, 2015 between Col. Michael L. Foster and Col. Gregory K. Anderson.
Hosted by U.S. Army Europe Commanding General Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the ceremony included leaders from the following NATO allies:
• The Czech Republic's 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade and 43rd Airborne Battalion
• The Estonian Defense League
• The French 11th Brigade Parachutiste
• The German Luftlande Brigade 1
• The Italian Folgore Brigade, the 4th and 7th Alpini Regiments and the Carabinieri
• The Hungarian 26/88th Mixed Light Battalion
"As an enabler for our great Alliance, the 173rd is permanently scattered across Europe and beyond," said Hodges during his remarks. "It plays roles in nearly every major exercise and operations with allies, partners and other U.S. forces."
When Col. Foster assumed command in the summer of 2013, the Brigade had just returned from its fifth deployment in ten years to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army was facing sequestration and reductions in troops and units, Foster said during his remarks, as Iraq and Afghanistan appeared to be winding down.
"The first thing that makes you a hollow force isn't an absence of money, people or equipment," said Foster. "It's a lack of mission. For the past two years, this brigade has had a good one. 10 of our companies and two of our battalions are currently deployed. But quite frankly, that's just another typical day for [the 173rd]."
While participating in exercises, the brigade re-invigorated previous partnerships with NATO units such as the Polish 6th Airborne Brigade and the Italian Folgore Brigade.
Foster also led the brigade through its transformation into the Army Contingency Response Force, a rapid-deployment unit capable of providing forces anywhere in the U.S. Army European, Africa or Central Commands of responsibility in under 18 hours.
"The 173rd is a recognized Army-wide leader in readiness through Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises and the culture of readiness that Col. Foster brought to the team," said Hodges.
That response was tested first in February 2014, when Slovenia experienced its worst ice storm in a century, cutting electricity to thousands of homes. Having already established an active partnership with the Slovenian 1st Brigade, paratroopers from the brigade responded on no-notice to deliver generators and other life-saving equipment via a ground convoy through snowy conditions.
The 173rd Airborne's readiness was tested again when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. On short notice, the "Sky Soldiers" deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in what is now a large-scale series of continuous exercises known as Operation Atlantic Resolve. The brigade also has a battalion deployed to Ukraine to train the newly-formed Ukrainian national guard under the Congress-approved Fearless Guardian mission.
Additionally, paratroopers from the 173rd are also deployed to Turkey to assure NATO collective defense as part of Operation Active Fence, to mitigate potential spillover from the crisis in Syria.
"There are lots of reasons we could highlight as contributing to the successes of our companies and battalions, the first and foremost are clearly the great men and women who make up their ranks," said Foster. "But the most critical component setting them up for success over the past two years has been the support and understanding of our families."
Col. Anderson arrives from his most recent assignment at the United States Army War College, and previously commanded battalions in the 10th Mountain Division and the 75th Ranger Regiment. In previous experiences in Europe, he also commanded a company in the 1st Armored Div., in Friedberg, Germany, where he deployed multiple times to Bosnia in support of NATO missions.
"When America and NATO needed immediate leadership, courage and Soldiers to stand up lead against aggression," said Anderson. "They called upon the 173rd. Something they have done consistently since the Vietnam War. I am incredibly honored to join this community."