FORT CARSON, Colorado -- The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, has begun its movement to Europe, loading the first trains this week that will send a heavy brigade's worth of tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and other equipment overseas in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Iron Brigade Soldiers, led by 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment with the help of 4th Sustainment Brigade, began Nov. 7 to stage and load vehicles and containers at the railhead here to kick off operations that ultimately will send more than 2,000 pieces of rolling stock to eight countries in central and eastern Europe.
"A movement of ABCT assets like this from the United States into Europe hasn't occurred in decades," said Capt. Kenneth Kloeppel, the rail head officer in charge and a unit movement officer for 1-66 Armor Regt. "It's huge for this type of brigade effort to unite and lean forward with this mission."
The full set of ABCT equipment will arrive at the port in Bremerhaven, Germany, in January, and then move by rail, commercial line haul and military convoy to Poland, where 3rd Brigade will consolidate before dispersing units to Germany and across six other countries from Estonia to Bulgaria beginning in February.
The ability to mass and move heavy equipment rapidly will be an integral part of 3rd Brigade's mission to provide an increased U.S. Army presence across Europe. The 4,000-Soldier ABCT will contribute to and strengthen the NATO Alliance's deterrence and defense capabilities.
"During our nine-month rotation, we'll routinely exercise, mass and move throughout the European theater to refine our ability to maneuver an armored force across Alliance member states," said Warrant Officer Abraham Rosales, 3rd Brigade mobility officer. "The first example of this will be our arrival to Bremerhaven and demonstrating our ability to move all of our equipment to Poland within a couple weeks of the equipment's arrival to Germany."
The first leg of this movement -- rail operations at Fort Carson -- will persist over the next month.
"There are a lot of moving pieces, checks and balances, inspections, etc., to ensure that the mission runs smoothly," said Kloeppel. "There were a lot of things that took place to get to this point. We performed meticulous equipment maintenance and had inspections at the lowest level all the way to the top. Everything gets accounted for and we label hazardous material accordingly."
Once the equipment clears final inspection, it is moved onto rail cars.
"It is necessary to have all paperwork for these vehicles done properly so that we can move them onto the rail cars," said Sgt. 1st Class Freddy Drayton, a motor transport operator and platoon sergeant for Company A, 64th BSB. "The Soldiers are trained and prepared to do their mission up to standard. It's an opportunity for them to take on leadership roles and gain more experience on a bigger scale because this is a huge mission. I applaud them for being motivated, for knowing what to do, how to do it and executing. None of this happens without them."
The 4th Sustainment Brigade also is providing vital support, not only at Fort Carson but when the equipment will be transferred from trains to sea vessels at a port in Texas and again when it arrives in Germany.
"We are providing mainly maintenance and recovery as well as fuel support for them before they go overseas," said Capt. Charles Pearson, a plans officer for 4th SB who has served as a liaison between his brigade and 3rd Brigade's 64th Brigade Support Battalion.
Kloeppel, of 1-66 Armor Regt., is confident the movement to Europe will go well.
"We have a lot of continuity within the battalion and the brigade," he said. "We have Soldiers and leaders who have experience with loading equipment on the railhead through previous operations, including when we transported our equipment to the National Training Center (at Fort Irwin, California) a couple months ago and for our deployment last year to the Middle East."