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From left, outgoing commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's Division Artillery Col. Ross E. Ridge, 2nd ID commander Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins and Fires Brigade commander Col. Matt R. Merrick attend a ceremony on Camp Stanley on Wednesday to redesignate the Division Artillery as the Fires Brigade.

From left, outgoing commander of the 2nd Infantry Division's Division Artillery Col. Ross E. Ridge, 2nd ID commander Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins and Fires Brigade commander Col. Matt R. Merrick attend a ceremony on Camp Stanley on Wednesday to redesignate the Division Artillery as the Fires Brigade. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP STANLEY, South Korea — The 2nd Infantry Division has completed formation of a Fires Brigade able to control up to seven South Korean artillery battalions as well as its own two multiple-launch rocket system battalions, officials say.

Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins, 2nd ID commander, redesignated 2nd ID’s Division Artillery as the Fires Brigade on Wednesday, immediately after Col. Matt R. Merrick took command of the unit.

Higgins told the new unit — the “Thunder Team” — that they form “the most powerful artillery force on the Korean peninsula.”

Creation of the brigade began when 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, a Paladin howitzer unit, joined 2nd ID’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team and deployed to Iraq last summer, said Col. Ross E. Ridge, outgoing Division Artillery commander.

“Thanks to the attention of the Thunder Team, 2-17 left here disciplined, physically and mentally tough and trained and professional. They are doing an outstanding job in Iraq,” Higgins said.

Earlier this year, 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, another Paladin unit, left Division Artillery and joined the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, which was activated Tuesday, Ridge said.

The Fires Brigade’s 1,500 soldiers include the two MLRS battalions — 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment and 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment — plus the 702nd Brigade Support Battalion and Company D, 122 Signal Battalion, Ridge said.

Merrick, 45, of Las Cruces, N.M., said the brigade will combine the capabilities of Corps and Division Artillery units.

“We can control anything the Air Force will give us, from bombers to A-10s and close air support aircraft,” he said.

The brigade has been training for months, but the Ulchi Focus Lens exercise later this year will be the next big test of its command and control capabilities, Merrick said.

The Paladin battalions were incorporated in brigade combat teams because the weapons are more precise and responsive than rockets to the needs of ground commanders, he said. “And they can carry an assortment of munitions that maneuver units need, such as smoke and shell fuse combinations,” he added.

The brigade will have an “improved” relationship with the Air Force, which already stations forward-observer controllers at Camp Red Cloud to work with 2nd ID units, Merrick said.

“They will work with us on a continuous basis and be incorporated in every exercise and every operation that we do,” he said.

The brigade will be based at Camp Casey. Component units will move there from Camp Stanley in the next 60 to 90 days, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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