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European edition, Wednesday, May 2, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Before the crowd assembled, someone asked Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson this question: Would artillery be on the field when soldiers from 1st Armored Division Artillery marched together for the final time.

“Stupid question,” said Robinson, 1st AD commander. “Of course.”

The sound of fired artillery echoed Tuesday around Minick Field in Baumholder. Plumes of smoke filled the air as the Army’s last standing artillery division was inactivated.

The Army has been going through a flurry of such inactivations in recent weeks as the military restructures itself to adapt to new threats. During those ceremonies, one soldier after another seems to describe the experience as “bittersweet.”

The same was true Tuesday, as the Redlegs of the 1st AD cased their colors and walked off to face new missions. As they departed, the soldiers marched to the music of the 1st AD band.

“The artillery will still maintain its place in history,” said Col. Darryl A. Williams, commander of 1st AD Artillery, which at its peak numbered 1,600 soldiers.

Formed in 1940, 1st AD Artillery deployed as part of the invasion force to North Africa during World War II. The division was inactivated in 1946, but brought back in 1951.

Through the years, the division was inactivated and reactivated several times. Division Artillery participated in Operation Desert Storm, enforced the peace in the Balkans, and deployed for 15 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I absolutely realize it’s hard to break up a magnificent team,” Robinson said.

When Williams was rising through the ranks, the military was structured around fighting the Cold War and confronting the Soviet threat. At the time, disbanding Divarty was unimaginable, Williams said.

Today’s threats are different, though. In the fight against terrorism, artillery needs to be dispersed through the brigade level. Transformation centers on speed and empowering fleet-footed brigade combat teams, Williams said.

“It’s already kind of happened,” Williams said, noting that the 1st AD Artillery has been used in new ways for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Members of the division said they recognize the need for such reorganization, though a sense of nostalgia persists.

“Nobody wants it to happen, but it’s got to happen,” Maj. Thom Crowson said.

During the ceremony, Robinson spoke of the Divarty’s storied history. The 1st AD commander also recalled past ceremonies on the Baumholder field, where the return of deployed soldiers has been celebrated, and where those killed in combat have been mourned.

“This is special ground,” Robinson said.

After the speeches and music and marching, Williams speculated about the future. The Army is always adapting to new threats, he said.

Who knows? The Redlegs could be back, Williams said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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