The countdown’s on for more than 3,200 soldiers in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
The Pentagon announced Friday that the Stryker brigade will deploy to Afghanistan for a one-year mission in December. It’s the 3rd Brigade’s fourth combat deployment in 10 years and its first to Afghanistan.
Leaders of the brigade earlier this year had been preparing their troops for so-called “full spectrum” operations, meaning they were training for traditional warfare against another nation’s developed military. At the time, the brigade did not have clear plans for a deployment.
That appeared to change this summer when the Army announced the brigade would train for the kind of tactics the military uses in Afghanistan, namely protecting civilians while tracking down insurgents.
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Families read those signals and prepared themselves for a deployment sooner than they had anticipated. The brigade returned from a yearlong mission in Iraq in July and August 2010.
“It’s a little unexpected they’re going so soon, but it can be better to be sooner rather than later,” said Dana Figer, 27, who’s leading a family readiness group for a company in the brigade.
“There’s always that countdown where it’s, ‘When they are going?’ and then it turns to ‘When are they coming home?’” said Figer, who lives in Lakewood. Her husband, Capt. Andrew Figer, is a company commander.
The Army in early August announced it would start sending soldiers on nine-month combat deployments instead of 12-month missions, starting next year.
Army I Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said that change is scheduled to take place in January, and the 3rd Brigade is expected to serve a 12-month tour.
Figer and other spouses of 3rd Brigade combat veterans are building connections with other families as they prepare for the deployment. Many have experienced deployments before. Some will be seeing their loved ones go overseas for the first time.
Some of the families are “recommending things that they’ve done to get through it,” said Jessica Ferriter, 28, of DuPont, who leads another family readiness group in the brigade. Her husband, Capt. Dan Ferriter, is a company commander.
“We have one spouse, for example, who had set up a jar of 365 jelly beans,” Ferriter said. “Her son got to pull one out every day. It was a visual reminder for her and her son that that’s when daddy’s coming home.”
They’re also trying to keep focused on things they can control.
“Right now the biggest thing is to remind spouses to ignore rumors,” Ferriter said. “Be patient, because there is still a lot about this mission that is unknown.”
Caroline Webster, wife of brigade commander Col. Charles Webster, said families will be able to attend a town hall before soldiers leave. Single soldiers also will have ways to keep their families in the loop using the Internet, she said.
“It’s difficult. I don’t want my best friend to leave, but this is what he does,” said Webster, 42. They have three children and live on base. “You always have that in the back of your mind.
“This is the next thing for us,” she said. “We’re going to embrace it. Chuck’s getting the soldiers ready, and we have to get the families ready.”
The brigade’s soldiers are training for their mission this month in Southern California at Fort Irwin.
They’ll serve in Afghanistan with Lewis-McChord’s top Army officer. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti deployed to the country with Lewis-McChord’s I Corps in July as the war’s deputy commander.
About 1,700 soldiers from the base are fighting in Afghanistan, not counting Special Operations forces such as the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division was the first Stryker brigade to serve in Afghanistan when it deployed there in July 2009. An Alaska-based Stryker brigade is serving in Afghanistan today.
The Figer family has been with the 3rd Brigade since its 2007 deployment to Iraq. Dana Figer said family readiness groups have helped her, providing for spouses to share their experiences.
She said her civilian friends sometimes tell her they don’t understand how Army families can cope with a soldier’s absence for so long. It’s just a fact of life, Figer said.
The 3rd Brigade’s family readiness group can be reached at 253-967-2029.