FORT DRUM — It was one final salute for the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The brigade, nicknamed the Spartans, has spent the last decade in combat, but its mission came to a symbolic end Thursday at the same place it began.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said Col. Samuel E. Whitehurst, the brigade’s commander. “It’s tough to see a brigade that has accomplished so much over the last 10 years, and sacrificed so much, to see us case our colors for the last time here at Fort Drum.”
The brigade’s deactivation was marked with a ceremony at the post’s Sexton Field.
Since activating, the brigade has spent 47 months overseas during deployments in 2006, 2009 and 2011 and 2013.
“That is a lot of combat,” said Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard, the post’s rear commander.
In its last deployment, advising Afghan security forces, Gen. Howard noted the brigade’s approximately 2,000 soldiers replaced four brigades, totaling about 8,000 soldiers.
Col. Whitehurst, deployed in 2004 when the brigade formed, said the difference from that time to today is drastic.
“I’ve seen the hope, and the sense of future the Afghan people now have,” he said. “They are now the ones in control.”
The deactivation of the brigade was announced in June 2013. The post will lose 1,500 soldiers in the change, with many 3rd Brigade soldiers sliding to the division’s 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams.
The division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of Fort Polk, La., will take the 3rd Brigade’s name within a matter of months.
The ceremony was a mix of history past and present. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., who commanded the brigade when it formed, and James W. Redmore, former brigade and division command sergeant major.
Brigade veterans in attendance Thursday expressed some sadness in seeing its closure.
“It’s like losing a family member,” said Erik J. Greer, who deployed twice while serving with the brigade from its launch until 2012, and survived a gunshot wound in 2007. ”It’s a close knit team. It was my home.”
Jeffrey A. Reynolds, who served with Mr. Greer in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, said he will remember the brigade’s “quiet professionals,” and their ability to build bonds with the Afghan people.
The brigade also remembered the 98 soldiers who lost their lives during deployments.
“Knowing I had the opportunity to serve in the same formation that they served ... that’s what I’m going to take away, more than anything,” Col. Whitehurst said.
Among the brigade’s highlights from its decade of service is having connections to two of the division’s three Medals of Honor, both from after 2001.
Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti was posthumously awarded the honor in 2009 after he gave his life to aid an injured soldier. Capt. William D. Swenson, linked with brigade soldiers who were advising Afghan forces, was presented the award in October for his heroism during a six-hour battle in eastern Afghanistan.
Video from the ceremony can be viewed at http://wdt.me/3BCT-deactivation.