FORT LEWIS - The Army activated its newest Stryker brigade - the third assigned to Fort Lewis - during a ceremony Friday morning.
Hundreds of soldiers assigned to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, stood as Col. Harry Tunnell IV, the unit's commander, and Brig. Gen. William Troy, acting commander of Fort Lewis and I Corps, uncased the brigade colors.
In brief remarks afterward, both commanders told the soldiers what's expected of them in the coming months: training hard and preparing for combat.
"We are a nation at war, and there's no doubt this brigade will make its own historic contribution in the global war on terror," Troy said.
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The soldiers, most new to the Army, heard that message loud and clear.
"It'll be good to prepare and go to combat," said Pfc. Brett Johnston, a 23-year-old infantryman assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry regiment, one of the brigade's three infantry battalions. "It (the activation) is just one of the steps along the way."
About 2,500 soldiers assigned to the brigade have arrived at Fort Lewis, and the brigade is expected to fill its ranks by July. Stryker brigades have almost 4,000 soldiers.
The brigade has begun individual training and is scheduled to reach its initial operating capability, meaning it could deploy, in March 2009, Tunnell said.
Whether the brigade will be in Iraq then is a question for someone else, the colonel said.
"We are training like we're going to war," he said.
The other two Stryker brigades assigned to the Army post are deployed to Baghdad and surrounding areas. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division is expected home from its second tour to Iraq in October, and the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, just arrived in Iraq and will return next year.
The brigade is the last of the Army's seven Stryker brigades, intended to fill the gap between heavy tanks and foot soldiers riding Humvees.
In addition to the three brigades at Fort Lewis, units are stationed in Alaska, Hawaii, Germany and Pennsylvania.
The brigade will be renamed the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division when the unit with that designation is deactivated, likely in December. The Fort Carson, Colo.-based brigade is serving in Baghdad.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or email@example.com.