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FRIEDBERG, Germany — Speaking of this town’s most famous short-term resident, Johnny Carson once cracked: “If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”

The same could be said of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which cased its colors — and with it the U.S. Army’s presence in the town — in a ceremony Friday at Ray Barracks.

The last time the brigade cased its colors in Germany, it was headed for an encore tour in Iraq where its soldiers, and the Marines and corpsmen fighting with them, wrested Ramadi from the insurgency.

But when the Ready First flag was rolled up Friday, it didn’t symbolize the brigade’s readiness to fight, nor did it signify the end of their battles.

What it marked was the end of the brigade as its soldiers knew it.

It’s an emotional point for many in the brigade, including many senior leaders, who consider their unit among the Army’s elite forces. Already Ready First has begun to scatter. Some soldiers will transfer to other units within Europe. Others will find new homes in units in the U.S. Many will leave their Army lives behind.

“It really is disheartening to just take it apart,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Schindler, the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment’s top enlisted soldier. Like many soldiers of the Ready First, he deployed twice to Iraq with the unit, celebrated its successes and suffered its losses. “It’s like somebody hit me over the head with a 2-by-4.”

He said even though there was sadness over the loss of good soldiers in Iraq, the brigade took a lot of pride in its accomplishments there, particularly in Ramadi, which is considered the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

After two tours, the latest during which they adapted and refined the tactics of “clear, hold and build” and exported their experience to U.S. units across Iraq, “They probably are the best-trained, best-executing unit in the Army,” Schindler said.

“The contributions and sacrifices you have made for our nation will not end with the casing of these colors,” Maj. Gen. Doug Robinson Jr., commander of the 1st Armored Division, assured the roughly 3,000 soldiers amassed on the parade field.

“As Colonel MacFarland and I trooped the line, we talked about … how hard it is to break up a magnificent team that has been welded and proven in combat.”

In a heartfelt speech to the soldiers and families of his unit and to scores of local Germans who attended, Col. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of the 1st AD’s 1st Brigade, spotlighted the relationship the Army has had with the locals.

Since U.S. forces rolled into Friedberg in 1945, “we have seen Germany rebuilt, the Soviet threat defeated, the growth of the European Union and the beginning of the global war on terror,” MacFarland said.

“With our presence coming to an end in this part of Germany, new memories will cease to be made and old memories will fade,” MacFarland said. “And so it is incumbent upon us to resist the effects of this parting and to keep our important strategic and cultural friendship alive.

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