For the fourth time in less than six years, soldiers from Fort Benning’s 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team have begun preparations to go to war.
Already the most-deployed of the Army’s combat brigades, the 3rd HBCT, which returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq last spring, is in the process of what the Army calls “resetting.”
That basically means shaking off the dust from all the gear the unit used during its run at Forward Operating Base Hammer and several other combat outposts in the Baghdad area, from computer systems to radios, from night vision devices to individual equipment, from tanks to Bradleys.
“The resetting actually began the day the brigade returned from Iraq,” said Col. Peter Jones, who took command of the outfit, which currently numbers more than 4,000 troops, on July 18. “We’re in a healthy position.”
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Though he didn’t have figures at his fingertips, he knows that a large percentage of the brigade’s non-commissioned officers are veterans of one, two, and in some cases, all three earlier deployments.
One of them is Command Sgt. Maj. James Pearson, who served as Col. Wayne Grigsby’s “battle buddy” during the most recent deployment.
“I’m blessed to have him on the team,” said Jones, a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. “And I’m also fortunate to have six phenomenal battalion commanders. But it’s that corps of NCOs who have set the standard here on Kelley Hill. They’re the backbone of the brigade.”
In fact, he added, “it would be strange to see anyone without a combat patch when you walk through Kelley Hill.”
While the brigade is not operating under return orders, Jones expects the brigade’s next deployment to come sometime during fall 2009.
“We’ll be heading to the National Training Center (at Fort Irwin, Calif.,) during the July-August time frame which will serve as our dress rehearsal for combat,” he said.
But where would the unit be headed?
With an expected troop draw down expected in Iraq in 2009, the 3rd HBCT could very well find itself serving a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan.
“We’ll be ready either way,” said Jones, who has served two prior tours in Iraq, the latest as chief of Strategic Threats and Joint International Task Force with Multinational Force-Iraq in Baghdad.
Jones’ boss during his days in Baghdad: Maj. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who, in November, will replace Maj. Gen. Walt Wojdakowski at Fort Benning’s commanding general.
“He’s a great man and full of energy,” Jones said. “I look forward to his arrival.”
During his days in Baghdad, Jones had several opportunities to chat with Grigsby, his old friend and mentor. “We lived on the same street during our assignment in Germany. Once I heard I was coming to the 3rd Brigade, we corresponded even more often. Wayne told me this was a special unit.”
The son and grandson of West Pointers, Army service was never a question of “if” for Jones. Lincoln Jones Jr. graduated in 1926 and served at Fort Benning in the ’30s. Peter’s dad, Lincoln Jones III, is a retired major general living in The Woodlands, Texas.
Soon after graduation from Lakes High School, which serves Fort Lewis, Wash., dependents, Jones was on his way to West Point via the academy’s prep school at Fort Monmouth, N.J. One of his high school classmates was Col. Tom Macdonald, recently installed as Fort Benning’s garrison commander.
While resetting continues inside the brigade, Individual fitness training is not being neglected. PT starts each morning at 6:30. “It’s important for everyone to get back in shape,” Jones said. “During the 15 months they were in Iraq, many of them on small COPs, they didn’t get the physical training they need.”
The most physically fit are in the process of gunning for the coveted Expert Infantryman’s Badge, which measures individual proficiency at a number of combat tasks. While limited to infantry soldiers, Jones is also scheduling similar competition for the unit’s armor, artillery and cavalry troopers.
“Competition makes the daily training more interesting,” he said.
Jones and his wife Stephanie have two sons — Lincoln Edward, 9, and Thayer, 5, both students at Benning’s E.A. White Elementary.
Though he wasn’t previously stationed at Benning, he did attend the Officers Basic Course in 1985-86.
“It is awesome to see the growth on post and in Columbus since then,” he said.
If Jones is as successful as his predecessors with the brigade, he just might match his dad’s rank on day.
Current 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, Brig. Gen. Dan Allyn, Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar and Grigsby, who is a guest lecturer at this week’s Warfighting Conference, were the last four brigade commanders.