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Lt. Col. Eric Stetson, commander of Task Force Shield, unfurls the unit colors during an activation ceremony at Grafenwöhr, Germany, on Friday.

Lt. Col. Eric Stetson, commander of Task Force Shield, unfurls the unit colors during an activation ceremony at Grafenwöhr, Germany, on Friday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Task Force Shield — a rear detachment for the 172nd Infantry Brigade — activated here Friday in preparation for the departure of thousands of Iraq-bound soldiers from the unit later this year.

At a ceremony to unfurl the task force colors at Grafenwöhr’s Field House, 172nd’s commander, Col. Jeff Sinclair, likened the rear detachment to Indian braves who stayed behind to look after families when their comrades went to war.

"The braves would never fight unless someone was left behind to take care of their families," he said.

Gen. George Washington recognized the importance of caring for soldiers’ families at Valley Forge during the American War of Independence, he added.

"He understood that if we want a professional military we can never do it unless we take care of the families," he said. "The military will be judged on how they take care of their families and the wounded."

It is the third time the brigade (formerly 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division) has deployed to combat in the "global war on terrorism."

"They (soldiers) need to understand that there is a structure in place to look after a kid if he comes home wounded and to take care of their families," Sinclair said, adding that every man in the Task Force Shield cadre wanted to deploy.

Lt. Col. Eric Stetson, who leads the rear detachment, said 95 percent of soldiers in the cadre have deployed to Iraq, some of them several times.

"It helps them because, having been downrange, they can understand what the soldiers are going through and help family members relate to it," he said. "It helps their communication with the families and the soldiers."

The detachment’s downrange experience should give family members confidence, he said.

"Families should thrive, not just survive, during the deployment," he said.

The task force is headquartered at Grafenwöhr and oversees rear detachments for each of the brigade’s sub-units. It will have soldiers stationed at Schweinfurt to care for a large number of soldiers and families based there until after the deployment.

"We are using many of the same principles used for the last deployment because they proved successful," Stetson said.

The task force’s mission will involve interaction with U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr and the community, he said.

"All the functions that the brigade normally carries out have to be continued in some form by the rear detachment during deployment. The biggest challenge for the task force is operating in an environment of uncertainty," he said, adding that nobody knows everything that will happen during the brigade’s yearlong stint in Iraq.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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