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With 4th Brigade Combat Team's inactivation, troops keep its legacy alive

The 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg deployed two battalions to Afghanistan last year.

But those battalions have since been moved to other brigades and, when the roughly 1,000 paratroopers return later this year, there won't be a 4th Brigade to speak of.

The 82nd Airborne Division will bid farewell to the brigade in an inactivation ceremony today at Fort Bragg's Stang Field.

The brigade leadership will case the unit colors that were unveiled in 2006 when the brigade was created during Army restructuring, officials said.

The brigade, which traces its lineage from the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, has been split in recent months. Some battalions will be deactivated alongside the brigade. Others have already been moved to other brigades in the 82nd Airborne Division.

"The 4th Brigade Combat Team has made significant contributions in its short history with the 82nd Airborne Division. The 1st and 2nd battalions, 508th PIR continue this tradition today, serving the nation while forward-deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom," said Col. Tim Watson, the brigade commander. "Throughout these last eight years, the BCT has performed exemplary in combat and sacrificed much on behalf of our nation."

The unit's legacy lives on in the paratroopers still serving across the Army, he said.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team is one of 10 brigades being cut as part of Army changes announced last summer.

But short of a complete disappearing act, the 82nd Airborne Division has reassigned some of the battalions to other brigades while also adding units or reflagging existing battalions.

The efforts are part of the Army's largest reorganization since 2006, which also was when the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne, was created.

At the time, Army officials said they were better positioning the force for the frequent deployments of brigades to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, many of those same brigades are being whittled down in an attempt to be better prepared for future threats, whatever they may be.

At Fort Bragg, the Army's largest post, the changes will not have a big effect on troop numbers. But it will change the landscape created by hundreds of millions of dollars of investment over the past decade.

Overall, the division lost about 1,000 troops during reorganization, officials said. Most of those troops were in the brigade headquarters and support units such as the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion and the brigade special troops battalion.

Of the other battalions, the 1st Battalion of the 508th was moved to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 2nd Battalion was moved to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

A third battalion, the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, was deactivated and replaced by the 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was moved to the 1st Brigade Combat Team.

New structure

The 82nd Airborne Division footprint has already changed to adjust to the new structure, and today's ceremony marks the end to the changes on post that began last year.

Officials with the 82nd Airborne Division have said the newer, reorganized brigades will have three infantry battalions instead of two. Special troops battalions have been reflagged as engineer battalions, and artillery batteries have been added to each brigade.

The total force will be roughly 4,300 soldiers per brigade, officials said, up from an average of 3,500 soldiers.

An updated 82nd Airborne will be better equipped to serve as the nation's 911, or Global Response Force, said Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Within the newly designed brigade combat teams, added engineers will bring route clearance and bridge building capabilities, Nicholson said. More artillery means a larger net of fires protection. And the additional infantry battalion in each brigade will mean more power on the ground without sacrificing important reconnaissance duties.

The changes are all part of a larger effort to better prepare paratroopers for the next threat, Nicholson said.

That larger effort includes honing skills learned in the past decade of war and relearning skills not used in many years, such as those associated with the division's airborne namesake.

Post-Afghanistan

Seizing airfields will bring back memories for some older paratroopers, Nicholson said, but it might not be a familiar task to newer 82nd soldiers.

"We're seeking to optimize the brigade combat team for a post-counterinsurgency, post-Afghanistan environment," Nicholson said. "It's a more robust formation."

"The world is more dynamic," he said. "There are potential threats out there and the 82nd will be at the tip of the spear."

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, artillery and cavalry battalions were used as infantry to hold ground and secure villages.

Under the new format, those units would be able to complete their trained tasks with less fear of being transformed into infantry for deployments.

The reorganization also will mean a new rotation for the Global Response Force.

With three brigades, each will rotate on eight-month cycles, officials said. The three-to-make-one rotation means the brigades will alternate between states of readiness, preparation or support for the current ready brigade.

"It's a net plus for us," Nicholson said. "It's a really dynamic time for the division and the Army."

Nicholson said the 4th Brigade's history will live on, even once the colors have been put away. He said the paratroopers of the brigade wrote a proud chapter in the division's history.

The 4th Brigade was first called to action less than a year after its creation when it deployed to eastern Afghanistan.

Since then, almost like clockwork, the brigade's battalions have served in Operation Enduring Freedom, totaling nearly three years, five months and counting in Afghanistan.

The deployments have varied from fighting the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan to the Taliban in the birthplace of the organization in southern Afghanistan. The paratroopers also have worked to train and advise tens of thousands of Afghan security forces.

"While we're sorry to see the unit go, we're proud to keep those paratroopers in the division," Nicholson said.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

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