Drenching rains fell as Army leaders officially activated their newest Stryker brigade on June 1, 2006, when the local installation was still called Fort Lewis.
The introduction of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division occurred as the Army was building up its forces for President George W. Bush’s Iraq “surge.”
The unit had held the legacy of the longest, continuously serving cavalry regiment in the Army. But on that day seven years ago, it would deploy for the first of three combat tours as an infantry brigade nicknamed the Raiders — and it was essentially given a blank slate.
“We’re about to build our own history as 4th Brigade,” said Col. John Lehr, the brigade’s commander at the time.
That history will reach a conclusion in the next four years. The Army announced Tuesday it would deactivate a total of 10 brigades, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, as the military draws down forces following more than a decade of overseas conflict.
The brigade deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. It got off to a bumpy start when it was sent to Iraq a month earlier than planned, and without a traditional mission rehearsal exercise.
Its two tours of Iraq couldn’t have been more different. Soldiers sustained heavy losses during the height of the “surge” campaign in 2007-08, then held the distinction of being the last U.S. combat unit out of Iraq during quieter times in 2010.
A total of 42 soldiers assigned to the brigade lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an online casualty database maintained by The News Tribune.
The announcement of 4th Brigade’s deactivation was made a day after a large group of its soldiers returned from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, with more yet to come home.
Maj. Christopher Ophardt, who served as a public affairs officer during the brigade’s second deployment to Iraq, said he was saddened to learn the end is coming.
He said there’s a strong affinity between soldiers and their units, noting how veterans of wars such as World War II and Vietnam still reminisce about their time with a given brigade.
The deactivation of the 4th Brigade, however, will never erase what its soldiers did in service to the nation, he said.
“We know what our accomplishments are,” Ophardt said. “They will always be part of the 2nd Infantry Division’s history.”
He held out hope that the Army could reactivate the 4th Brigade someday, or change its mind before shutting it down.
“Until that ceremony actually happens, that’s when it will finally set in,” said Ophardt, currently stationed in Jacksonville, Fla.
The loss of 4th Brigade — one of seven Stryker teams Armywide — also will end a strong relationship with the city of Lakewood. The city is the unit’s “adopted” community under Lewis-McChord’s community connector program.
Brigade soldiers have helped out at community volunteer and park cleanup events. City officials have attended memorial services and homecomings for soldiers, and City Council members have hosted brigade leaders for dinners.
Lakewood is also organizing a Sept. 15 parade and celebration once 4th Brigade is fully home from Afghanistan — a welcome-home event that may now carry a tinge of farewell.
“It’s disappointing,” Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson said, “but the unit’s just a number. The soldiers will be our friends and neighbors for years to come.”