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Devil Brigade in South Korea celebrates its centennial

Soldiers compete in tug-of-war during the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division's centennial celebration at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Wednesday, May 24, 2017.

MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 25, 2017

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Halfway across the world from its birth in the trenches of France, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division celebrated its 100th anniversary near another hotly contested border in South Korea.

However, rather than celebrating in a formal ceremony, the Fort Riley, Kan.-based soldiers traded dress uniforms for physical training gear and competed against one another Wednesday in football and tug-of-war games at Camp Humphreys.

The Devil Brigade was formed in France on May 24, 1917, as part of the First Expeditionary Division and fought in multiple battles during World War I, including the first U.S.-led operation known as the Battle of St. Mihiel, according to the U.S. Army Center for Military History

The unit’s crest, designed in 1928, is a French fleur-de-lis representing that early heritage.

After the Army temporarily transitioned away from the brigade system, the unit disbanded in 1939, but was reactivated in 1958. It went on to fight in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the subsequent war in Iraq.

The brigade’s current nine-month rotation to South Korea marks not only the first time the unit has been to the peninsula, but the first time any brigade from the Big Red One division has been here.

It also has found itself divided as the division is in the process of moving south from bases near the border with North Korea to Camp Humphreys as part of a massive relocation of U.S. forces in the country.

Sgt. James Salyers, 38, the brigade’s command driver, said being an older soldier gave him a deeper appreciation of what the day might mean to the future of the brigade.

“Being part of this – it’s unfathomable,” the Phoenix native said. “Most people never have this opportunity to be around these people and to be around this kind of culture.”

He said later in the day he would be adding to what he called a momentous occasion by re-enlisting for six more years.

The celebration’s lead planner, Capt. Kenneth Metcalf, emphasized the lack of formality didn’t take away from the event’s importance.

He said the soldiers needed a day to come together and “build esprit de corps” due to constant operations tempo and the challenges in being spread out among three bases.

“The teamwork, the bond - that’s everlasting,” he said. “These are the same guys we’re going to be next to in the sandbox.”

The brigade, which has the motto “America’s First,” will soon head back to Fort Riley to be replaced in South Korea by the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are stationed in South Korea to stand watch near world’s most militarized border.

fichtl.marcus@stripes.com
Twitter: @marcusfichtl

Soldiers carry a simulated casualty as part of a "Warrior Competition" during the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division's centennial celebration at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
MARCUS FICHTL/STARS AND STRIPES

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