European edition, Tuesday, July 17, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Often with new jobs, there’s a grace period, time to learn the ropes before diving into unfamiliar waters.

Not so if your job is leading a brigade of soon-to-deploy soldiers, many who are new to the Army.

Col. Robert P. White has just one month under his belt as the new commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division out of Baumholder. Already, he’s steeped in family readiness preparations, cultivating a cadre of new battalion commanders and, most of all, engaging in the primary task of preparing some 4,000 soldiers for a November deployment to Iraq.

“The train is moving fast. But I think for every brigade combat team in the Army it moves fast. We’re all in the same boat as far as what our cycles look like for deployment or coming out of deployment,” said White, 43.

Baumholder units are now revolving in and out of Grafenwöhr, where training exercises are being conducted.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve completed resetting ourselves. We’re getting all our equipment back and getting it up to standards so we can use it. We’ve done all of what we call individual training,” White said.

Going forward, the focus is on collective tasks with squads and platoons training together, he said.

The work will culminate with an August “mission readiness rehearsal exercise,” which functions as a sort of pre-deployment certification.

White, fresh from a two-year assignment at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., replaces Col. Robert E. Scurlock Jr. as commander of the 2nd BCT. During White’s time in Carlisle he attended the Army Senior Service College and served as director of training at the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

But “you’re always hoping you can get back with troops as an officer as you move up through the ranks. When you get selected for command, it’s humbling just because of who you’re going to be in command of,” White said. “These young soldiers who are out there, men and women both, they’re the life blood of America.”

Before his stint in Pennsylvania, White served as the 1st AD’s operations officer in Wiesbaden. In 2003, White deployed to Iraq as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade.

The 2nd BCT returned from its last deployment in November. However, in the past year many new faces have entered the fold.

While not disclosing exact figures, White noted there are a host of young privates walking around the garrison. On the one hand, that translates into inexperience, he said, but on the flip side, the new and eager soldiers bring an added energy to pre-deployment preparations.

“It also helps to have a new set of eyes looking at things,” said White, noting that “just because you’ve been there (Iraq) done that doesn’t mean you know it all.”

As for the personal toll of a long deployment and the strain of being far from family, White said it’s felt by all, from general to private.

But “that’s what the Army is. That’s why we’re in the Army,” White said. “Nobody made you do this. You volunteered. Get that fire back in your system.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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