It's back to war for engineer battalion

President Barack Obama in December pledged to send 30,000 more troops to the country. His top commander there ordered many of them onto smaller bases to be closer to the local population.

And with those orders, the 864th Engineer Battalion returns to war from Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the fourth time in seven years.

More than 600 soldiers stood at attention Thursday as the battalion command cased the unit colors during a ceremony at Soldiers Field House at the local military base. They will leave soon for southern Afghanistan, where they will build, expand and improve bases.

“As usual, there is more work to be done than engineers or resources to do it,” said Col. Michael Brobeck, commander of the 555th Engineer Brigade, to which the battalion belongs. “But as you have always done, you will set the pace to make it happen.”

The departure of the battalion is Lewis-McChord’s first major contribution so far to the Afghanistan surge. The engineers will serve in the same area as the largest Lewis-McChord unit in the country: the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is fighting insurgents in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

After the battalion deploys, about 5,000 Lewis-McChord soldiers will be on the ground in Afghanistan.

“We’ll be putting in new bases to support maneuver units where there weren’t troops before,” battalion commander Lt. Col. Heather Warden said.

The battalion is leaving less than two years after it returned from its most recent Afghanistan deployment. Soldiers and families enjoyed the longest single stretch of dwell time since the invasion of Iraq.

The 864th deployed to Kuwait in March 2003 ahead of the invasion of Iraq; its soldiers provided airfield construction and engineering support to coalition troops.

The battalion departed for Afghanistan in March 2005 and worked on road projects in Kandahar province. It returned to Afghanistan in February 2007, building outposts and improving bases in the country’s east.

Battalion and brigade officials stressed during Thursday’s ceremony that the departure is just the latest for a unit originally activated for World War II.

“From the Pacific Theater of World War II, to Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam, to Kosovo, to Iraq, to Afghanistan – there one hell of a lot of history and honor in those colors that are proudly flying today,” Brobeck said.

Scott Fontaine: 253-597-8646