FORT KNOX, Ky. — Roughly half of the U.S. Army’s V Corps Soldiers rose several hours before the sun March 7 to load duffel bags, ruck sacks and gear in preparation for a deployment to Europe.
While a rotation of forward deployed Soldiers is already in Poznan, Poland, the Fort Knox contingent, departing under the direction of the V Corps deputy commanding general - support, Maj. Gen. Robert Burke, and operations sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Mike Lamkins, will set up in Germany.
Under normal circumstances, about a third of the Soldiers from the V Corps staff rotate in and out of Poland. However, in light of recent circumstances in Eastern Europe, the commander of U.S. European Command requested the deployment of the remainder of the Victory Corps to Europe.
“The V Corps main headquarters will deploy to provide additional command and control of U.S. Army forces in Europe” stated a press release announcing the deployment. The release further stated that the deployment “will provide a more robust presence in Europe and enable the Corps to synchronize current contingency operations, support the ongoing mission to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank and coordinate multinational exercises across the continent.”
The news was felt by Family and friends preparing to be separated for an undetermined amount of time. Tears could be seen on the faces of some spouses and children as they said their farewells to their mothers and fathers following a colors casing ceremony.
Knowing the pain felt by Families, especially Families of Soldiers who have never deployed before, has probably been the toughest part, said Burke, although some of the younger Soldiers have expressed excitement at getting the opportunity to experience their first deployment.
Burke explained that while they have prepared for a historic return to Germany after the unit’s colors were cased in 2013 at Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden, Germany, their number one mission will be to ensure the readiness of the troops assigned to them in Europe.
“Saber Strike is ongoing right now,” said Burke, “… we conduct a lot of host nation and multinational training events throughout the region. So, we’ll continue to do that — we’ll train with all the forces from these nations that we’ll have a presence in.”
According to Burke, Army leaders’ decision to send the remainder of the unit to Europe hasn’t come as much of a surprise. About 175 Soldiers traveled to Poland last year to establish the unit’s forward presence.
"Victory Corps is ready and prepared to support the orders of the President, and demonstrate our commitment to our NATO Allies. As America's Forward Deployed Corps, we were built for this mission," stated Lt. Gen. John S. Kolasheski, V Corps commanding general, in the deployment press release.
Corps leaders have had about a year to fill all positions at the unit after officially reestablishing the corps. During that time, they have conducted several exercises designed to test their warfighting capabilities, including a culminating exercise late last year.
“That really brought us to a level of readiness coming out of that event: fully operationally capable is what we call that,” said Burke. “It then allowed us to transition into our second year, where we find ourselves right now.”
Burke said he was unsure when the main element of the corps would return to Fort Knox from Europe, but emphasized that V Corps will maintain a persistent presence in Europe.
“V Corps will remain as long as we are needed by U.S. Army Europe and Africa to build readiness, interoperability, reinforce our allies and deter aggression against NATO,” said Burke. “Our V Corps Forward in Poland, has been the command and control headquarters for our assigned units and will remain as an enduring presence in Europe to continue working with our NATO allies to ensure regional stability and security.”
During the casing ceremony, which involved both the corps’ colors and the headquarters and headquarters battalion’s colors, Burke told the troops he was proud to be counted among them. He also told the families present that he was thankful for their continued support.
“You’re all a part of history,” said Burke.
“As we get ready to step forward and do what’s asked of us … know that we’re in a good place, we’re trained and we’re ready.”