Heavy 1-4 Cavalry to shed armor for transformation
SCHWEINFURT, Germany — The men of the 1-4 Cavalry are going naked to the Army’s transformation party.
Without their armor, that is.
The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment has been a heavy- armor unit like the 1st Infantry Division it’s been part of since World War II. But the transformation plan announced by the Pentagon on July 29 will move the squadron to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, a light, mobile force set up to deploy quickly. It will become the unit’s reconnaissance squadron.
Before the transfer takes place next summer, the 1-4 Cavalry will turn in its heavy metal, the Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles that protected its troops during a hard year of patrolling part of the infamous Sunni Triangle in Iraq. It will replace them with Humvees, emerging as the Army’s first light-airborne cavalry reconnaissance squadron.
“We have an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of transformation,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, the squadron’s commander.
The 173rd Airborne is halfway through a yearlong tour in Afghanistan, so the 1-4 Cavalry and two other 1st ID units scheduled to transfer — the 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment, and the 82nd Engineer Battalion, both based in Bamberg, Germany — won’t tackle the hard work of meshing with their new commanders until after the 173rd’s return. Kolenda said the switch will happen in mid-2006 — about the same time the 1st ID headquarters moves to Fort Riley, Kan.
Because of a space crunch at Vicenza, the Germany-based units won’t move to Italy for at least several years. Kolenda said it’s not clear, either, whether the 1-4 Cavalry will keep its current name because of the unit’s long association with 1st ID.
“We will absolutely be a cavalry unit,” he said. “We’d still like to be part of the 4th U.S. Cavalry because of its long tradition.”
Because it is losing its heavy vehicles, the 1-4 Cavalry must practice foot soldier tactics. The squadron was designed to fight as part of a massive front, its tanks arrayed shoulder-to-shoulder with OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters hovering overhead to observe and protect.
But earlier this summer the two helicopter troops folded up, to be replaced later by unmanned aircraft. Without armored vehicles, the cavalrymen also will be losing their biggest guns. Already they have boned up on tactics for urban fighting.
“What’s really different are the horses we bring to the fight,” said Maj. Kirk Dorr, the squadron’s executive officer. “We’re much lighter. But (we’re) more capable, more nimble.”
“We’re going to be able to do a lot of things we couldn’t do before,” said Spc. Andrew Larsen, 21, of Portland, Ore. “Being a heavy scout [platoon], we were focused on our vehicles. That was our main weapon. In the light environment, you have to rely on your teammates.”
The 1-4 Cavalry’s job had been to seek out the enemy and blow him away. Now it will be a game of quietly finding and then eluding him, leaving the dirty work to others.
“It’s a complete change — from find ’em and pound ’em, to sneak and peek,” said Sgt. Shane Salter, 22, of Walla Walla, Wash.
The 1-4 Cavalry soldiers, nearly all Iraq veterans, give the shift mixed reviews. They find appealing the sexy job of jumping out of airplanes, but they’re not so thrilled about facing insurgent bombs and grenades behind the limited protection of a light wheeled truck.
“On the battlefield I’d rather be in a Bradley than a Humvee, definitely. I’ve seen what can happen to Humvees that get hit by [bombs],” said Spc. Jonathan West, 23, of Springfield, Mo. “But as far as transformation, it’s great to be part of the first light- cavalry recon squadron.”
“It’s exciting on one side, and confusing on the other,” said Cpl. Max Webster, 27, of Cincinnati. “You get to jump out of an airplane. But what are you jumping into?”
They’re about to find out.
“You’ve heard a lot about transformation over the years. Well it’s here, and we’re executing it,” Dorr said. “We’re kind of a microcosm of what’s happening in the whole Army.”
Bill Cherkauskas/Courtesy of the U.S. Army
Members of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment train recently in Schweinfurt, Germany. As part of the Army’s transformation, the 1-4, traditionally a heavy-armor unit, will become a light reconnaissance squadron as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy.