After a long goodbye, 4-3 ADA cases its colors
WüRZBURG, Germany – For almost 20 years, Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Addison, 41, has proudly worn the uniform of the U.S. Army, and he’d like to pull it on for another 10.
But his job is disappearing and so is his unit — the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment — 211 years old – and just six months removed from a yearlong tour in Iraq. They are casualties of the Army’s transformation.
Addison’s served too long to change jobs, and his chances of promotion have shrunk to nil. So he’ll leave the service.
“The unit is going away. It no longer exists,” Addison said. “There’s no future for me.”
The 4-3 ADA cased its colors Thursday in a solemn ceremony at Würzburg, the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division. The unit is the first battalion-sized piece of the Big Red One to disappear.
The battalion’s demise is part of a long-planned restructuring of its Patriot and Avenger missile-defense units, which are needed in fewer numbers since the end of the Cold War.
The unit’s leadership learned in April 2004 that the 4-3 ADA would be dissolved shortly after it returned from Iraq.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” said Maj. Clark Denman, 41, who took over this summer as the unit’s caretaker commander. “We knew for a long time.”
Downrange, the battalion operated six Sentinel radar sites, said Maj. John Labadini, 38, the deputy operations officer during the deployment. But most of its soldiers worked on force protection, guarding the 1st ID’s two main bases in Tikrit, camps Danger and Speicher.
After 45 days of “reintegration” and block leave, the unit returned to an enormous task: reassigning more than 500 soldiers, many of them into new jobs, and turning in more than 10,000 pieces of gear, from tents to trucks.
“You have to make all of your equipment go away at the same time as you’re moving your soldiers,” Denman said. “It’s really hard when you’re having to do both at once.”
More than 200 soldiers not only needed new duty stations, they needed to be reclassified into new career tracks. Many became military police officers, transportation or water purification experts, even cavalry scouts.
“We’re helping the Army with its shortages, across the board,” Denman said.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Staff Sgt. Sammie Cloud, 31, the operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge who is retraining as an MP after six years with the 4-3 ADA. “[BUT] it’s like a home is going away. It’s weird to see it go.”
Two dozen of the unit’s officers and soldiers will form the 1st ID’s new Air and Missile Defense detachment, which stood up Thursday at the same ceremony under Labadini’s command.
Labadini said the detachment will include 10 vehicles and two Sentinel radar systems, which will let the 1st ID keep its early-warning and airspace-management functions.
But the division no longer will have its own air defense artillery guns. If it needs them, it will borrow them from ADA task-force brigades being created at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“It’s like a tool box. You’ll take what you need,” Labadini said. “Whatever the threat is, the brigade will send the right package.”
Closing up shop has been a busy, bumpy time for the soldiers and families of the 4-3 ADA. Keeping busy has lessened the pain of loss.
“It’s difficult, because it’s such a great unit,” said Capt. John S. Pires, 34, the former Battery D commander who will serve as operations officer in the new detachment. “But we see our branch changing, and we’re making that happen. We know we’re going to be part of it.”
Iraq charity network is unit’s legacy
The 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment is gone, but it’s leaving something behind.
While in Iraq, Capt. Alex Diefenbach, 27, the unit’s personnel officer, created what has grown into perhaps the largest soldier-sponsored relief effort in the country: the Iraqi Children Assistance Network, or Operation ICAN (www.operationican.com).
Begun in his hometown of Midland, Mich., the project uses a growing network of individuals, churches and civic groups across the U.S. and Germany to donate toys and school supplies for Iraqi children.
“It’s grown to be a countrywide project,” Diefenbach said. “They’ve started to receive them by Air Force pallet.”
Diefenbach said the organization now supplies 4,000 schools across the four provinces of northern Iraq patrolled last year by 1st ID through. The last time he checked, Operation ICAN had gathered 4,000 tons of supplies.
“We’re leaving a legacy,” said Maj. Clark Denman, the unit’s outgoing commander.
— Steve Liewer