173rd Airborne Brigade trains hundreds to be ‘Sky Soldiers’
Stars and Stripes August 13, 2006
SAN GIORGIO, Italy — What a difference a few months can make.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, fresh off a yearlong stint in Afghanistan — and a similar tour in Iraq that ended in 2004 — is in the process of training hundreds of troops to be “Sky Soldiers.”
Hundreds of soldiers served in both of those missions with the 173rd, making the brigade one of the most combat-experienced in the Army.
But hundreds of recent departures have changed that.
While Army units always see some changeover, the 173rd has been hit harder than usual for many reasons, including the end of prolonged tours made necessary by the two missions in Southwest Asia.
Some units in the brigade have seen more than two-thirds of their soldiers go elsewhere or leave the military.
Some of their replacements have served in other Army units, but many are new recruits not long out of basic training.
So units are busily training to gain skills or qualifications.
Capt. Tom Bostwick, commander of Company B from 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, said almost all of the noncommissioned officers in his battalion have served tours in Iraq or Afghanistan — many of them with the 173rd.
So that gives them credibility when telling new recruits how to do things.
“We have NCOs saying, ‘When I was in combat, this is what I saw,’” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Eddie King, who served in Afghanistan with the battalion and served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, said it is a tactic that NCOs use effectively.
“We tell them, ‘If you think this is a joke, you’re mistaken. Because this is what we did and what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.’”
Bostwick said he’s not going to rush his new troops through.
He wants to take the time to make sure they’re trained thoroughly and properly.
Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel, battalion commander, echoed Bostwick’s desire to not rush and get each soldier properly trained.
Even though it seems likely that the 173rd will deploy somewhere in 2007.
Pfc. Casey Nix, one of the newest “Sky Soldiers,” said the training is “more intense” than basic training. “It’s about what I expected,” he said.
Although the drills looked monotonous, he said he was learning more every time.
“We still haven’t gotten it, but we’re getting there. They keep throwing different scenarios at us to keep us on our toes.”