GRAFENWÖHR, Germany – Two Germany-based Army brigades and two U.S.-based headquarters totaling 8,400 personnel will deploy to Afghanistan next year, the Department of Defense has announced.

The Grafenwöhr-based 172nd Infantry Brigade and the Baumholder-based 170th Infantry Brigade, along with the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters, out of Fort Hood, Texas, and the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters, from Fort Bragg, N.C., will deploy between spring and fall 2011, according to a Friday press release.

“The U.S. continues its commitment to maintain the current level of forces assigned to the NATO-International Security Assistance Force,” the press statement said.

The 172nd returned from a yearlong mission to Iraq last November and unit members said earlier this year that they had not expected to deploy again until 2012.

In a written message to brigade members and their families, 172nd commander Col. Frank Zachar said the unit would deploy for 12 months, starting in the summer.

The 172nd soldiers will take block leave from Dec. 18 through Jan. 5 and again before the deployment. Over the next six months they will train for the mission and participate in a mission rehearsal exercise at Hohenfels in March, Zachar said.

“We ask that our families prepare emotionally and mentally for the long hours to come,” he added.

The 172nd, a “heavy” brigade, equipped with tracked Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks, will fight as a “light” unit equipped with MRAPs — Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Soldiers will spend some of their time during the deployment patrolling on foot, according to Maj. Joe Buccino, the brigade public affairs officer.

Staff Sgt. Noah Plumb, 35, of Shawnee, Okla., a veteran of two Iraq deployments, said he extended to stay with the 172nd and go to Afghanistan.

“I see it as a real opportunity to affect change against al-Qaida and the Taliban — to fight them one-on-one and win,” he said.

Leaving the tanks and Bradleys in Germany will not be difficult for members of the brigade, he said.

“In Baghdad (during past deployments) we were on the ground running around,” he said. “The majority of the time we didn’t use the Bradleys. A lot of the guys look forward to not having to do maintenance on the Bradleys.”

First Sgt. Richard Mitchell, 39, of Jasper, Ind., another member of the 172nd, said he’s looking forward to using battle skills he honed at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Camp Frank D. Merrill, Ga.

“I look forward to training our soldiers on the tactics for mountainous environment combat,” he said, adding that there are many other soldiers with experience in the mountains or in Afghanistan serving with the brigade.

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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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