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Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team patrol in eastern Afghanistan during the brigade’s first deployment to the country in 2005. The Pentagon announced Tuesday that “Sky Soldiers” will be heading back to Afghanistan for their third deployment after ones in 2005-06 and 2007-08.

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team patrol in eastern Afghanistan during the brigade’s first deployment to the country in 2005. The Pentagon announced Tuesday that “Sky Soldiers” will be heading back to Afghanistan for their third deployment after ones in 2005-06 and 2007-08. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team will return to Afghanistan this winter, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

The country is becoming a second home for the "Sky Soldiers," who served previous rotations in Afghanistan in 2005-2006 and 2007-2008. The announcement didn’t specify a date the deployment would start or mention where the soldiers would be deployed.

It said two units — the 173rd and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team from the 101st Airborne Division — would "replace forces currently deployed in Afghanistan. …"

President Barack Obama has ordered about 21,000 additional troops to the country in an effort to combat increased activities by Taliban and other anti-government forces, but the announcement indicated that the two units would not be part of such a "surge."

Soldiers from the brigade are currently on block leave before heading to Germany for training and attempts to reach someone for comment were not successful.

But the announcement doesn’t come as a surprise. In an interview in January, Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Rolling said he expected the brigade would deploy late this year.

Now it’s just a question of exactly when and where. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the brigade has been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan in every calendar year.

That began with a jump into northern Iraq on March 26, 2003, to start a yearlong deployment. The brigade then had only two battalions. It has since increased to six, with four based in Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany and two in Vicenza, Italy.

The brigade deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. It was headquartered at Kandahar Airfield and conducted operations in the south of the country, which is now the focus of expanded U.S. operations. The 1st Battalion, 508th Regiment (later reflagged as the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment) was assigned to the northeast in Paktika province. That battalion served in the same place during the brigade’s subsequent deployment to Afghanistan in 2007-2008. The rest of the 173rd also moved northeast, with the brigade headquartered in Jalalabad.

Forty-three Sky Soldiers lost their lives during the last deployment. More than half of the fatalities were members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, which emerged from the tour as one of the most highly decorated units in recent Army history.

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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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