The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division officially began its fourth movement overseas in six years on Wednesday, yet again solidifying for the unit the title of most deployed combat brigade in the U.S. Army.
To mark the moment and provide an appropriate send off for those soldiers awaiting deployment again, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, visited Kelley Hill.
Cucolo, along with 3rd HBCT commander Col. Pete Jones, addressed the troops during what is called a “color casing ceremony,” a symbolic event that readies the unit’s colors for movement and marks the beginning of the brigade’s deployment to Iraq.
“It’s a visual for everyone that says, ‘This is it, we’ve trained for it, we’re ready for it and now we are actually leaving,’” Cucolo said.
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During the 2 p.m. event, the 3rd Brigade’s flag, campaign streamers and guidons were rolled up and prepared to ship overseas.
Now safely packed away, the colors will not see the light of day until they are ceremoniously unfurled in Kuwait.
There, they will be reunited with the remainder of the brigade.
“It’s October,” Cucolo told the troops and crowd Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve got the run up to the World Series, we’ve got college and high school football. It’s week four of the NFL. And at Kelley Hill, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, October means boxes are packed, containers are loaded, personal equipment is inspected and arms are sore from fresh vaccinations.
“Some folks will be checking box scores in the American League and National League, we’ll be checking wills and powers of attorney,” Cucolo added. “And when most of America concentrates on its holiday traditions this December, by this holiday season 14,000 of us dog-faced soldiers will be in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Seventy 3rd Brigade soldiers have been killed and more than 200 injured during the unit’s previous three deployments to Iraq.
The casing of the colors ceremony gave Jones the opportunity to remind the community of those sacrifices and the myriad other challenges the brigade’s soldiers have faced over the past seven years.
“The lineage of this brigade has been built on the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us, many of whom are standing in formation now preparing for the first, second, third and in some cases fourth deployment since 9/11,” Jones said. “Even as I speak the brigade’s first main body is already en route to Kuwait to begin our final preparations for movements into Iraq.”
By next week, approximately 4,000 3rd Brigade soldiers will be on their way to Iraq, beginning a 12-month tour. Each day on Fort Benning brings another batch of goodbyes, fresh tears and more flights scheduled to depart Lawson Army Airfield. When the final wave of Hammer brigade soldiers board those last airplanes destined for half a world away, Kelley Hill will fall quiet.
Whereas the brigade was previously called upon to lead and fight in Iraq, it’s new mission is to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as they strive to protect their own nation.
“What is very different about this one is the Iraqi Security Forces are very capable and what we’re trying to do now is buy just a little more time for the political machine of Iraq to get a credible, viable, national level government and provincial level governance connection, and the only way that’s going to happen is if there’s security.”
The brigade’s ultimate goal upon completion of its estimated 365-day deployment is to confidently hand the reins over to the Iraqi people so American troops can continue to dial down their presence in that country. “Our proud history, our training, our dedication to duty and desire to succeed as Marne soldiers will ensure success no matter the operating environment,” Jones said. “In fact the only question is, how successful can we be?”