Fort Bliss' 1st Brigade juggled complicated mission in Afghanistan, at home
By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 3, 2017
Fort Bliss’ 1st Brigade had a complicated mission both in Afghanistan and back home at Fort Bliss and was able to accomplish it successfully this year, its commander said.
About 1,400 soldiers from the Ready First Brigade deployed from January to October primarily in a train, advise and assist role, said Col. Eric S. Strong, brigade commander.
Another 200 soldiers spent some time in Afghanistan either for professional development or as individual replacement soldiers, he added.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers from the brigade remained at Fort Bliss and focused on staying trained and ready, said Strong, from Syracuse, N.Y.
“We accomplished the mission the nation asked of us, both at Fort Bliss and in Afghanistan, and we did it professionally,” Strong said. “I am extremely proud to be part of the brigade and humbled to be able to lead it.”
Those deploying included: the brigade headquarters; the 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment; 1-36 Infantry; 6-1 Cavalry; 2-3 Field Artillery; and elements from the 16th Engineer Battalion and 501st Brigade Support Battalion.
The 3-41 Infantry were among those who stayed behind and concentrated on training at Fort Bliss, Strong said. The battalion’s Cobra Company served as part of the Army’s Global Response Force from March to October.
During the deployment, 1st Brigade did a multi-pronged mission.
It had soldiers advising the Afghan police and army in multiple locations. It also provided support and additional capabilities to Special Forces teams operating throughout Afghanistan.
In addition, 1-36 Infantry led a task force of about 1,100 troops, consisting of its own soldiers, troops from sister U.S. services and from European partner nations Georgia, Poland and the Czech Republic.
This task force provided mission command over security at Bagram Airfield and for about 425 square miles around the installation.
The task force, led by Lt. Col. Stephen C. Phillips of 1-36 Infantry, also provided support and additional capabilities to Special Forces throughout Afghanistan. One company provided assistance to the U.S. Air Force training mission in Afghanistan, while a platoon served as a quick-response team in eastern Afghanistan for the first half of the deployment.
While technically a noncombat mission, Phillips, of Luzerne, Pa., said the soldiers he led had “contact” with the Taliban and Islamic State extremists every day while advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts.
The brigade and 1-36 Infantry lost one soldier, Pfc. Hansen B. Kirkpatrick, who died in July from wounds received during an indirect fire attack. Thirty other brigade soldiers received Purple Hearts for wounds they received in Afghanistan, Strong said.
“There is a cost,” Strong said. “The mission was important and the brigade executed its mission, in my opinion, expertly as professionals, but we also had a huge support structure back here” at Fort Bliss and El Paso.
The rear detachment – the soldiers who remained behind during the deployment – was commanded by Lt. Col. Brian Hallberg and Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Jeffrey, who both did double duty.
Hallberg continued to command the 16th Engineer Battalion until relinquishing that position on Nov. 16. Jeffrey also served as the senior enlisted soldier for the 3-41 Infantry, a position he continues to hold.
The brigade also got lots of support from its family readiness groups, the rest of Fort Bliss and the El Paso community, Strong said.
Now, the brigade will turn its attention to its next missions. About 60 leaders from the brigade and its battalions went to Fort Hood, Texas, after Thanksgiving to help 3rd Cavalry Regiment prepare for an upcoming rotation at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
Most of the 1st Brigade contingent will stay about two weeks and serve as observer-coach-trainers during an exercise at Fort Hood.
After the holidays, the brigade will begin focusing on its own rotation at NTC scheduled for fall 2018.
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