Cannon boomed Tuesday on Fort Stewart as the First Brigade Combat Team celebrated its landmark new mission: assisting civil authority when requested in case of natural or manmade disaster.
"This is the first time in American history that an active duty unit has been assigned to stand ready to help the American people at home," Col. Roger Cloutier, the brigade commander, told more than 3,000 soldiers gathered before dawn on Cottrell Field,
The brigade took up its assignment Oct. 1 as the operational task force of Northern Command's ready response unit for assisting with the consequences of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive incident.
"After defending America through three deployments to Iraq," Cloutier said, "we now are ready to help the American people at home. We are honored and humbled to have been given this mission."
The 1st Brigade soldiers have just finished training, both in the classroom and in the field, designed to prepare them for their new role. That training brought the Army's top soldier, Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, to Fort Stewart for a visit.
Speaking to service members, Casey underscored the importance of a trained and robust federal military response force.
"There are terrorist organizations out there who are still trying to obtain nuclear or radiological materials," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind that when they acquire them, they will attempt to use them."
Casey also pointed out that being part of the new force requires a shift in thinking for soldiers who are accustomed to taking charge. Federal military forces must remember that they work in support of a civilian agency while operating within the United States, he said.
The brigade celebrated Tuesday with a brigade run and honored more than 20 soldiers who provided key assistance during the previous month's training.