VILSECK, Germany — The next U.S. Stryker brigade to deploy to southern Afghanistan will be in place ahead of fighting season, allowing for the early return of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, the unit’s commander said Tuesday.
“Yes, we are coming home early,” Col. James Blackburn said to smiles and applause. “First, 2nd and 3rd Squadrons will be home three weeks ahead of schedule, and 4th Squadron and the Regimental Support Squadron will be a home a week early.”
Speaking at a town hall meeting Tuesday, Blackburn said that the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, needs to be in place ahead of the summer fighting season.
“We are trying to get the next unit set early before it really greens up,” he said, referring to the spring growth spurt in Afghan orchards that provides insurgents cover to attack ISAF and Afghan forces.
Col. Todd Wood, commander of the 1st Stryker Brigade, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he’d been to Afghanistan to survey the area and found terrain that is more rugged than the roads where his Strykers operated during their 2008-2009 deployment to Iraq.
“We feel very confident we are going to have tremendous success on this deployment,” he told the newspaper.
Blackburn said his soldiers already have the enemy on the run.
“The enemy left southern Afghanistan because we kicked his ass out,” he told the town hall meeting. “All over southern Afghanistan, you will find Dragoons with their foot on the throat of the enemy.”
The 1-25 Stryker will backfill for 2,800 Canadian troops who end their mission there in July, Blackburn said.
The Canadian government announced in November that its combat mission in Afghanistan would end this year, although Canada will provide up to 950 military trainers and support personnel to train and mentor Afghan troops until March 2014, according to the Canadian government’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade website.
On his midtour leave from Afghanistan, Blackburn told 2nd SCR spouses, rear detachment troops and wounded members of the unit that his squadrons are already starting to consolidate in Kandahar province. Until now the squadrons, which deployed in May, have been scattered under different task forces in Zabul and Uruzgan provinces, as well as several districts of Kandahar.
The back wall of the Rose Barracks Cavalry Chapel at Vilseck displayed photographs of 2nd SCR troops giving shoes to an Afghan child, patrolling alongside Afghan soldiers, training Afghan Border Police and convoying through southern Afghanistan.
A roll call of Dragoons who have fallen during the Afghan mission was read, but Blackburn told those gathered that the chapel isn’t only a place to mourn.
“This is a place to celebrate all the great heroic things your soldiers are doing all over southern Afghanistan,” he said, adding that in 100 days the regiment killed or captured 36 enemy leaders.
He showed an aerial film, accompanied by Beethoven, that recorded the last moments of an insurgent leader before he disappeared in a cloud of smoke from an airstrike.
“Dragoons are doing that all over southern Afghanistan,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said he plans to use some of his time out of theater to visit some of the more than 100 Dragoons wounded during the mission, who are now at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The regiment is already looking ahead to its next scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in 2013.
“If you stay in the regiment, you know for a fact that you are going back down in 2013,” he said. “You know you have 24 months of dwell time if you stay with the regiment.”