The 197 Infantry Brigade, a basic training unit with history dating back to World War II and both Gulf War at Fort Benning, was officially discontinued Thursday in a ceremony at Doughboy Stadium.
About 400 of the 800 soldiers in the brigade stood in formation for the last time as its flag was cased. Battalions of the unit will be assumed by the 316th Cavalry Brigade as the Army restructures the fighting force to reduce soldiers to 490,000 from 562,000 troops by fiscal year 2020. The Army will save about $1.6 million in fiscal year 2014.
Soldiers and civilians of the 197th Brigade will continue their training duties in the 316th Cavalry Brigade but the change means a new assignment for Lt. Col. Joseph I. Pierce, brigade commander. “It’s been a distinct honor and pleasure to serve with the 197th Infantry Brigade,” he said.
Pierce has been reassigned to Iraq where he will advise a small contingent of Iraqi soldiers.
To prepare for the change, the brigade has been working for about six months with the 316th Cavalry Brigade. The brigade teaches 11 courses, including Bradley Leaders Course, Combatives School, Heavy Weapons Course, Sniper School and Stryker Leaders Course.
Pierce said the brigade has touched more than 44,000 soldiers in the last year. Those soldiers have gone to their next duty station while training continues for the next group at Fort Benning.
“It’s just like a ripple effect,” Pierce said. “We’ve had an opportunity to affect the soldiers and it goes on and on.”
While the occasion is sad, Pierce said training continues.
“It’s kind of sad but it’s good to see the opportunities of all this as the Maneuver Center of Excellence continues to focus on our training and try to do the best it can for soldiers, taking care of soldiers and preparing for the next combat because we don’t know where that is,” the commander said.
Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commander at Fort Benning, described the soldiers as the strength and foundation of the Army. “It's tough to see those colors cased,” McMaster said. “I know that it’s deeply difficult for those who served in this great brigade.”
McMaster said the brigade has touched the entire Army, noting the importance of more than 1,000 snipers trained.
“You will never know how many of our soldiers will get to see their children grow up because of the training you have provided our forces,” McMaster said.
Carmen Cavezza, a former commander at Fort Benning and commander of the 197th Infantry Brigade at Kelley Hill in the 1980s, said training in the Mohave Desert in California allowed the brigade to train hard and learned a lot about tactics.
“We virtually lived in the desert a month, trained pretty hard and learned an awful lot,” Cavezza said. “That was a great event for the unit. It helped us grow and mature.”
During the Gulf War, the 197th Brigade was attached as the 3rd Brigade to the 24th Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga. It took up a defensive positions along the Kuwaiti border and waited for Iraq forces to enter Saudia Arabia. In November 1990, the brigade prepared for action to expel Iraqi invaders from occupying Kuwait as part of an Allied coalition. The 197th Brigade was the only brigade of the 24th Infantry Division to deploy to both Desert Shield and Desert Storm in defending Saudia Arabia and The Liberation of Kuwait. After returning from the war, the 197th was inactivated and officially reactivated as the 3rd Brigade, 24th Infantry Division.
With shrinking budgets and financial challenges facing the Army, Cavezza said there will be more deactivations like the 197th Brigade.
“I always get a little nervous when we take down units,” he said. “You can reactivate them but they are not trained when you reactivate them. It’s going to happen. It’s there if they need to reactivate it.”