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Reps. seek new Army unit for White Sands Missile Range that would add 500 soldiers

First Lt. Alyssa Noltner, HHC, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers conduct communication checks en route to set up the 2nd BCT Tactical Operations Center on White Sands Missile Range Space Harbor, September 27, 2015.

U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By THE LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE) Published: November 17, 2017

LAS CRUCES N.M. — Nearly 500 U.S. Army soldiers could be stationed at White Sands Missile Range, if Army leaders agree to a request from New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham joined in a letter to Army leaders requesting that WSMR be considered to house one of the new security force assistance brigades.

SFABs are a new creation by the Army. The Army website describes them as “the first permanent unit of its kind in the U.S. Army, solely dedicated to advising and assisting partner nations in developing their security force capability, from the tactical to ministerial level.”

The letter explained that there is $170 million worth of modern, battalion-sized facilities at WSMR that are vacant and immediately available, along with more than 130,000 square feet of brand new facilities, from headquarters to maintenance bays; a new dining facility; and a 134,000-acre maneuver training area with close proximity to the personnel of the 1st Armored Division and Brigade Modernization Command at Fort Bliss.

WSMR lost its last deployable Army unit in 2013 when it was announced that the 2nd Engineering Battalion would be deactivated. There were 535 soldiers attached to that battalion.

The SFAB established in May at Fort Benning, Georgia, and five others planned — a total of five in the active component and one in the National Guard — will each have 529 soldiers assigned.

“We appreciate Army’s decision to accelerate the establishment and selection of the remaining five SFAB’s,” the letter stated. “WSMR has a long history of hosting active-duty units, and the state of New Mexico would provide a warm welcome to the Army should it decide to station an SFAB at White Sands. In basing roughly 500 officers and senior noncommissioned officers at WSMR, the Army can take full advantage of the exceptional training capabilities offered at the post while making the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

Why WSMR?

The letter went on to note the unique geographic advantages of WSMR.

“From a training standpoint, WSMR is the largest overland military installation in the country,” it said.

The letter noted that the Army, Navy and Air Force all are supported by WSMR, along with numerous private contractors.

"WSMR also frequently hosts allied and partner nation elements, offering one-of-a-kind opportunities for training and integrating joint forces,” it stated.

It was sent to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper and Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley.

Members from the delegation met with Esper this year and provided documentation on the advantages of WSMR. He committed during his confirmation hearing to give the proposal “full consideration,” according to a press release from the delegation.

Priority No. 1: readiness

Col. Scott Jackson, an infantry officer who has served in the Army for 27 years, is the commander of the first SFAB in Georgia.

Jackson said part of the advising mission of an SFAB is knowing that the "American" way of doing things is not always the best way to do things with a partner.

"There is an Iraqi way of doing things. There is an Afghan way of doing things," he said. "If you don't realize that, if you are not sensitive to their way of business, what you propose as an advisor will have no credibility, and you will have no trust. And you will be an ineffective advisor."

Lt. Col. Johnathan Thomas, who serves with the Army's force management directorate at the Pentagon, said the SFABs could grow into a full-sized brigade combat team, if necessary.

What the SFAB also does, Thomas said, is get after the Army's No. 1 priority: readiness.

"Being able to provide advisors to assist our partner nation security forces not only helps them defend their country and their interests, and put down existing threats or emerging threats in their area, but also helps us with our readiness," he said. "Because now we don't have to send our forces forward and do those things. Those forces are capable of doing it for themselves."

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©2017 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.)
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