The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, known as “Sledgehammer,” was deactivated on April 15, 2016, yet the legacy of the unit’s actions in combat, reputation for excellence and unique character remain an incredible source of pride in 3rd ID Soldiers, current and former.
The 3rd BCT, 3rd ID, is a historical unit tracing its roots back to 1917, when the 3rd ID was originally activated. Ahead of the 6-year anniversary of the brigade’s deactivation, I wish to reflect on the characteristics that made the Sledgehammer unique and exemplary within the 3rd ID and the U.S. Army.
What made 3rd BCT such a special organization goes back to exemplary leadership and an extensive sense of family, despite being so far away from the rest of the division located at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
“Sledgehammer Brigade was special because of three key factors. Because we were the brigade away from the division at Fort Benning, we were really a family, we had our own cantonment area at Kelley Hill, and it was just a really great group of people,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division and Ford Stewart. Costanza was the brigade commander of 3rd BCT from 2013 to 2015.
“We had great community relations with Columbus and that was like our broader family. While Fort Benning was largely a [Training and Doctrine Command] post and we were not a part of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, they too supported us and treated us like we were part of the family.”
“Lastly, the moto we all know, “Not Fancy, Just Tough” was that brigade. You could throw anything at that brigade and they could accomplish it, and I think that goes back to some of the incredible leadership they had there,” said Costanza.
Costanza also believed that from company level leaders to the battalion, they were an incredible group, many of which are still contributing to the Army and development of leaders to this day.
Effective leadership is a foundational corner stone of any effective organization. A high number of young leaders in the 3rd BCT continued to develop in their Army careers and became general officers, colonels, command sergeants major, and other senior leaders. Sledgehammer Veterans have stated that their experiences in the unit were essential in developing them into the leaders they have become.
Examples Costanza cited include Command Sgt Maj. LaVares J. Jackson of the U.S. Army Armor School and Command Sgt.Maj. Darien D. Lawshea from the U.S. Army Signal School, were both first sergeants in 3rd BCT. Other leaders still serving the 3rd ID staff who are Sledgehammer alumni include Sgt Maj. John J. Kirkpatrick, the division’s plans noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt Maj. Marion C. Wilson, chief of culinary management, and Col. Alexis (Pancho) Perez-Cruz, the chief operations officer.
The division senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Quentin Fenderson, was also amongst the leaders that regard Kelley Hill as among the most impactful assignments of their career.
“I learned selflessness from this unit specifically. It heavily shaped my career,” he said.
A source of unit pride and cohesion was possibly born from a 3rd BCT rivalry with the rest of the division’s subordinate units. Located at Fort Benning while the other 3rd ID brigades were located at Fort Stewart, Sledgehammer stood separate and was regarded informally by some as the “Black Sheep” of the division.
According to Kirkpatrick, “Black sheep was a really important term: it put a really big fighting chip on everyone’s shoulder. Sledgehammer Soldiers would not accept mediocrity or complacency. The unit endeavored consistently prove themselves and outperform the other 3rd ID brigades.
Fenderson remembered that it was Sledgehammer’s separate stationing that spurred a drive for excellence at greater intensity than with the collocated division units. The feeling that Sledgehammer Soldiers were separate and special inspired a higher standard discipline.
Pride in an organization can also emerge from a symbol that differentiates an organization from its peers. For Sledgehammer, Soldiers sported a green Marne patch during the initial deployments in the Global War on Terror, instead of the tan Marne patch that the other 3rd ID units wore. This subtle variance in iconography from the division’s status quo allowed 3rd BCT Soldiers to be quickly identified while forward deployed.
Esprit de corps forged during tough realistic training and later proven on the battlefield was yet another alleged hallmark of Sledgehammer. The brigade’s tactical procedures were in constant refinement based on lessons learned while fighting an ever-evolving insurgency. Sledgehammer’s close proximity to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning also provided ease of access to the newest counter-insurgency doctrine. Frequent deployments to the most dangerous areas of the Global War on Terror caused the BCT to constantly develop new strategies.
Perez-Cruz remembered the unique methods of Sledgehammer’s training doctrine as “Effective because we focused on effectively training ourselves. The command team did not require much overhead from the division headquarters. The BCT trained as one cohesive team, often on our own.”
Recalling simplicity and smoothness of planning the BCT’s major training events, Perez-Cruz said, “We always trained as we fought, which allowed a seamless transition to the real world combat environment.”
Since the operational frequency was high, there was little time to waste while on Kelley Hill. Leaders and Soldiers insist that the best training must be provided and executed, or lives would be lost.
As the only brigade-sized Forces Command unit located at Fort Benning at the time, 3rd BCT was a highly sought-after assignment with intense competition for leadership positions. Quality leaders and Soldiers competed to stay and as a result, Sledgehammer had a very high retention rate.
While building a lasting reputation from unassuming roots as the “Black Sheep” of the division, Sledgehammer Brigade held the distinction as one of the most deployed BCTs in the Global War on Terror and was not surpassed until after its inactivation. Along the way, the brigade produced many noteworthy senior leaders and cemented itself in the pages of history as a key asset in the liberation of Iraq and the transition from a brutal dictatorship to a free republic.
Kelley Hill is now a shadow of its former self and the brigade’s former buildings no longer display the Sledgehammer heraldry. In its wake, the Veterans of the brigade leave a history of exemplary combat performance that is “Not Fancy, Just Tough!”