1st Brigade gathers ahead of deployments
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: June 14, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division gathered together early Wednesday for the last time before roughly 1,600 troops deploy later this month.
Gathered on Devil Field across from their headquarters on Ardennes Road, the soldiers stood in formation as they faced their commander, Col. Tobin A. Magsig, and senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert H. Cobb.
The two leaders of the Devil Brigade led the soldiers — about 3,500 in all — on a four-mile run along the busy road, which was filled with troops conducting their morning physical training.
Magsig said the formation was largely symbolic, a family gathering of sorts before the unit splits up and deploys.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade will soon find themselves in three very different parts of the world, officials said.
About 1,500 paratroopers — including 300 soldiers already deployed — will find themselves in Afghanistan. Another 400 will be deployed to Kosovo. And the remaining troops will remain at Fort Bragg, where they will assist the Global Response Force and stand ready to deploy should the military decide to send additional troops overseas.
In all, 1,900 soldiers from the brigade will be deployed soon, officials said.
Magsig said it will likely be more than nine months — the planned length of the deployments — before the soldiers are together as a brigade again.
He said the opportunity to come together was a luxury and an opportunity. He said the brigade includes first-time deployers and those with five or six deployments under their belts. There are soldiers anxious to start their missions overseas and others who must stay behind but would gladly deploy with them.
“More important than where we’re going is who we are and what we’re going to do,” Magsig said. “Who we are is a family.”
As for what they’ll do, the soldiers will be part of the train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan, working with Afghan forces to help bring stability to the embattled country. They’ll also provide security and a reserve force for U.S. military leaders, special operations troops and others.
Magsig said he was proud of how the soldiers prepared for their missions. And he is eager to see how they’ll perform.
“They’re excited, motivated and ready to do what the nation asks,” he said.
Soldiers in the brigade have been preparing for their missions for most of the year. And with the deployment fast approaching, that preparation is still ongoing.
Cobb said it’s not uncommon to see soldiers on Devil Field flipping tires, running with ammunition cans or pulling litters carrying soldiers.
Those tasks are meant to simulate things that may be asked of them in combat, he said. And it shows the soldiers are taking the deployment seriously.
“We’re ramping up,” Cobb said of the final weeks before the unit leaves Fort Bragg.
For the near future, he said, soldiers will be focused on packing up their belongings, storing personal vehicles and ensuring that families are cared for.
Magsig said he and Cobb couldn’t be more proud of the work the brigade’s soldiers have done in preparation for their coming missions.
“They’re well-trained and ready to go,” he said.
Magsig said the toughest job will fall on those soldiers who remain at Fort Bragg. They’ll be tasked with supporting the soldiers and families of those soldiers deployed, while also continuing to train in support of potential future missions.
One of those missions could be the deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan. Military leaders have called for more troops to deploy to the country, but those plans have yet to be approved.
Magsig said there’s a chance those additional troops, if approved, could come from the Devil Brigade.
“It’s a roller coaster ride as you watch the news,” he said. “Some days it looks very probable. Some days it's 50/50.”
In Afghanistan, the 1st Brigade will replace the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Last week, that brigade lost three soldiers — Sgt. Eric Houck, Sgt. William Bays and Cpl. Dillon Baldridge.
According to reports, the soldiers were shot and killed in a June 10 insider attack in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, killed by an Afghan soldier who opened fire on the U.S. troops.
A fourth soldier was wounded and transported out of the country, officials said. And the shooter was killed by return fire.
Cobb said the the soldiers of 1st Brigade were well aware of the attack.
“It’s a hard loss at the end of their rotation,” he said. “We absolutely feel for them and their families.”
Cobb said soldiers have prepared for such an attack during their training at Fort Bragg. Some of the soldiers will be specifically tasked with preventing the so-called “Green on Blue” attacks.
“We have always known that is a threat,” Cobb said. He said soldiers have been trained to look for indicators that something could be wrong. They’ve focused on cultural awareness classes. And above all, they’ve been coached to stay vigilant at all times.
Magsig said the recent attack will not change how the brigade prepares in its final weeks at Fort Bragg.
But, he said, the attack is a reminder of the threats the soldiers will face in Afghanistan.
“It’s important to learn these lessons and do everything possible to prevent them,” Magsig said.
During the run, soldiers were organized by company and battalion as they ran up and down Ardennes Road.
Their unit colors led the way, save for one group of soldiers representing the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment.
Those soldiers ran with their unit flag cased, symbolizing the fact that the squadron is already deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan.
The 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment are expected to join them, along with the brigade headquarters, by the end of the month. Those units cased their colors after the run on Devil Field, along with the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, which is bound for Kosovo.
The casing of the colors symbolizes the pending deployment. Soldiers will unfurl the flags once they arrive in Afghanistan and Kosovo and assume their new missions.
Sgt. Holdin Cisneros, a paratrooper with the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said soldiers were excited to do just that.
“We’re not nervous,” he said. “But we’re a little anxious.”
The soldiers know they risk death or injury while deployed, Cisneros said. But they’re also eager to serve their country and be a part of something bigger than themselves.
“My men are trained and ready,” he said. “I feel sorry for anyone that goes against us.”
That’s a sentiment Cobb and Magsig shared.
While both leaders said Afghan forces are in the lead, they said the soldiers of 1st Brigade will be prepared to do whatever is asked of them.
“I know you’ll do extremely well. And I pity the poor bastard that picks up a weapon and tries to challenge a devil on the battlefield,” Cobb said, “because you’re going to fight where you’re told and you’re going to win where you fight.”
The 1st Brigade was last deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and also deployed to the country in 2012.
Cobb said the latest deployments will build on a legacy that dates to World War II and the famed “Devils in Baggy Pants.”
“First brigade has a long and storied history. Now it’s your turn to add to the history of the brigade,” he said. “It’s your turn to add that page and go down in history as part of this outstanding organization.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.