The Stryker brigade that returned from Iraq last year is off to a fresh start after recovering from 15 months in combat.
Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are back to work after spending the holidays on leave to get reacquainted with families. New soldiers have joined the unit.
Col. David Funk has succeeded Col. Stephen Townsend as brigade commander. Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Bjerke is the brigade’s new senior noncommissioned officer, replacing Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Du. And on Thursday, the first Stryker armored vehicles returned to the brigade after being repaired and refurbished to like-new condition.
“When it leaves here, it’s in the best shape it can be in,” said Tony Conoscenti, project manager for the vehicles’ “reset.” The cost of the reset is $44 million.
Contractors will repair 268 vehicles by April 30. Nineteen severely damaged vehicles are being rebuilt at a General Dynamics Land Systems plant in Anniston, Ala.
The brigade will receive 20 new armored vehicles to replace those damaged to the point they couldn’t be repaired.
The vehicles traveled thousands of miles on patrol in desert conditions as insurgents shot at them or attempted to blow them up. Back home, protesters at the Port of Olympia attempted to block their return to Fort Lewis in November, leading to dozens of arrests. The soldiers returned home a month or so earlier.
More than 150 contractors are working to return the vehicles to the brigade as quickly as possible. Conoscenti, a former infantryman who served 16 months with a Stryker brigade based in Alaska, said the contractors know the more time the soldiers have to train in the vehicles, “the more prepared they’re going to be” in the event of another deployment.
This reset is not as intensive as the one two years ago when contractors were rebuilding Stryker vehicles that served two years in Iraq; first with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in 2003-04, and then with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, in 2004-05. The 1st Brigade moved to Germany in 2006 and was designated the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. The regiment has deployed to Iraq for 15 months.
Another Fort Lewis-based Stryker unit, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is serving in Iraq and expected home this summer. A third Stryker brigade is undergoing initial training at the Army post and will be designated the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Over a seven-day period, contractors will service the engine, transmission and drivetrain. They will replace armor plating scarred by bullet holes and shrapnel.
They will change out tires, if needed. They will clean the vehicle inside and out and touch up the paint job.
Contractors also will upgrade the vehicles, adding air- conditioning in vehicles that don’t have it. They will install a more powerful hydraulic lift system so the rear hatch will close faster; the added weight of the extra slat armor on the hatch had made it close slower. They will upgrade the computer software in vehicles.
The vehicles will be released to the unit after a road test and final check by government inspectors.
Spc. John Premo, 21, one of the soldiers assigned to pick up the first refurbished vehicles Thursday, recalled how an improvised explosive device detonated near his Stryker in Baghdad on his last mission before leaving Iraq last year. The vehicle sustained shrapnel damage, but the soldiers were uninjured.
Now a fire-team leader, Premo said soldiers new to the brigade are excited when they see the vehicles.
“The Stryker has earned quite a reputation for what it did in Iraq,” he said.
The return of the vehicles means soldiers can begin the next phase of their training. But it’s unclear whether another deployment to Iraq is on the horizon.
“We’re just going to take it in stride, and if we have to go again, we’ll go again,” Premo said.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.