Ritual unites Stryker soldiers, families

FORT LEWIS — After a ritual “casing of the colors” for the Army’s fourth Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis on Monday afternoon, Clarissa Gonzalez of Lakewood said it’s finally sunk in that her husband, Sgt. Armando Gonzalez, will go to Iraq next month.

“I think it just hit me,” she said, as she stood on the Fort Lewis parade ground with her husband and their daughter, Victoria.

“I think he’s prepared to go, because of his job. Yes, I’m prepared, but I don’t think you can ever really be prepared,” she said. “I take comfort in family and knowing he knows his job. And I just pray. God is what gets me through.”

Just less than 3,800 servicemen and women will head for Iraq by the middle of April, said brigade spokesman Maj. Mike Garcia. A few of them already have left in order to prepare for the brigade, he said.

The fourth Stryker Brigade was established in early 2005 and activated at Fort Lewis in June 2006.

Brigade Commander Col. Jon S. Lehr told families that the unit’s training will be key to the war effort in Iraq.

“There are no units better prepared and oriented on the objective in terms of its training in culture, tactics and technology,” Lehr said.

Nearly four years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Lehr said the brigade now has many experienced soldiers — one estimation was 40 percent, but he did not have exact figures.

“Throughout this formation, there are people who have been once or twice, and they have developed certain skills under fire,” Lehr said. “The more experienced soldiers have been coaching, teaching and mentoring the young group.”

The upcoming deployment is the first for the Army’s fourth Stryker Brigade, though some of its battalions can track their histories from the Civil War.

The brigade has been trained to use some new Army technology, including new communications equipment and a variant of a Stryker vehicle with a larger cannon. The unit will be among the first to use those devices.

Their equipment is being assembled for transport to Iraq, via Kuwait, from the Port of Tacoma, which has been the target of protests for more than a week. The exact date the equipment will be deployed is classified, Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek said, but when it leaves will depend on the availability of a ship and when the bulk of the soldiers are deployed.

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or vbuhain@theolympian.com.