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VICENZA, Italy — Take a few elements from the 1st Infantry Division and place them in Germany, hundreds of miles from their new headquarters. Mix in some veterans from an airborne unit based south of the Alps. Add hundreds of new soldiers and put many of them in units and positions that haven’t existed before.

What do you get?

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which — sticking to a cooking theme — is a new dish that hasn’t been tested in a restaurant. Let alone a battlefield.

Not that the cooks don’t have a plan — part of which involves a series of conferences to bring the brigade leadership together to discuss specific issues. And to just be together.

“It’s all about making us more effective as a brigade combat team,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, commander of the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, after one of this week’s sessions.

A cavalry unit in an airborne brigade? That’s part of the transformation process the Army is undergoing around the globe. But the 173rd has a bit more quirks than others.

Because there’s no space in Vicenza for extra troops, four of the six battalions call Germany home. Three battalions, and the brigade’s deputy commander — Col. Sean Callahan — are stationed in Bamberg. Kolenda’s cavalry guys are in Schweinfurt.

“Other Army units have gone through this transformation process, but not with the geographic separation we have,” Callahan said. “That’s what makes it unique.”

“It does present a challenge to some degree, because of the geographic separation,” said Lt. Col. Paul Daniels, commander of 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment. He, like other officers attending the sessions, was taking a chance to meet with colleagues after the meetings were over for the day.

Maj. Tony Lugo, the brigade fire support officer, said the first seminar — called Omega training — focused on the need for everyone in the brigade to be ready to be a rifleman on the battlefield. This week’s meetings, closed to the public because of their nature, focus on insurgency updates.

The brigade hasn’t received orders to deploy downrange, but with current Army manning — and yearlong deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past four years — the brigade’s leadership is preparing to be handed its marching orders for a mission sometime next year. Various units are training — together and separately — at locations in Germany and Italy. But though the Army has a variety of ways to communicate over distance, getting to know someone you’ll be sharing battle space with is still best done face to face.

“There’s no substitute for that,” Kolenda said.

Kolenda said everyone involved knew there would be challenges. But he appeared confident they were being overcome.

“The brigade leadership has been tremendous in wrapping their arms around all of us,” he said. “And making us feel a part of the team.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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