All three Stryker brigades from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are on track to be in Afghanistan later this year as more than a decade of combat in that country draws to a close. But it’s unclear to what extent these nearly 12,000 soldiers will have overlapping tours of duty.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that the 3,900 soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will deploy sometime this fall for nine months.
They will follow soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, who left for southern Afghanistan starting in December and are expected back in the Tacoma area by Christmas.
They also will trail troops from the 2nd Brigade, who are now in the process of deploying for a nine-month tour.
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The 4th Brigade gained fame in August 2010 for being the last U.S infantry brigade to leave Iraq as more than seven years of combat operations ended in that country.
The brigade conceivably could be among the last fighting brigades out of Afghanistan, too. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in February the U.S. would step back from its combat role as early as mid-2013, ahead of the scheduled return of all American troops the following year.
Maj. Jennifer Willis, the 4th Brigade spokeswoman, said it’s impossible to speculate on the schedule because it’s based on political decisions.
“If that is the way it happens, the Raider Brigade will be honored to take part in that phase, as well,” she said Thursday.
It would be the third deployment for the brigade, which served in Iraq from 2007-08 and again in 2009-2010. But it will be a significantly different mission this time around – and not just because it’s a new country, language and culture.
The focus will be on training instead of fighting as U.S. forces are preparing Afghan forces to take over their own security.
“Drawing on experience from two deployments and the past year and a half of advanced training, our team will step forward and serve proudly as disciplined, resilient professionals, strengthened by the support of our families and communities,” Col. Michael Getchell, the brigade’s commander, said in a statement.
Getchell led the brigade on its last tour and will command it again this time – an unusual stretch of continuity in leadership.
Soldiers and families also have the benefit of early notice before enduring another separation.
Thursday’s announcement comes at least five months before the brigade would deploy. That’s more lead time than the other two local Stryker brigades received before their most recent rotations: 2nd Brigade was given two months, while 3rd Brigade got four months.
The 4th Brigade has been actively training for 18 months. It held two major field exercises at the Yakima Training Center and will head to the National Training Center in California in June for a final readiness check.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 christian.hill @thenewstribune.com Twitter: @TNTchill