Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Commander Maj. Gen. Mike Murray said about 1,000 Marne Division soldiers are or soon will be deployed, including Murray himself.
Murray and 3rd ID Deputy Commanding General-Maneuver Brig. Gen. James Blackburn talked Monday about the division’s current and upcoming deployments as well as organizational changes within the division.
Murray said 3rd ID Deputy Commanding General-Support Brig. Gen. Christopher Bentley already has deployed to Afghanistan with about 60 soldiers from division headquarters. Bentley will lead the Train, Advise and Assist Command-East, which includes about 1,000 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division. They will train, advise and assist the 201st Afghan Corps, Murray said.
When he deploys later this month with 140 more soldiers from 3rd ID Headquarters, Murray will take command of U.S. Forces Afghanistan National Support. During Murray’s 12-month absence, Blackburn will be the senior commander for Stewart-Hunter.
“Before, we’ve had soldiers out on joint patrols with Afghan companies, battalions and brigades,” Murray said. “Right now, there’s no clear advise-and-assist mission. (However), Force Protection for Bagram Airfield will be our responsibility.”
He confirmed that a unit from the 3rd Sustainment Brigade already is serving in Kuwait. These soldiers, the 200 soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, plus 32 soldiers from the 82ndCivil Affairs Battalion now serving in Liberia bring the total number of Fort Stewart troops deployed to 1,000.
Reorganization changes within the 3rdID will change the Marne Division’s mission, Murray said.
“I think it changes (our mission) significantly,” he said. “We going from three armored brigade combat teams to only one, and one infantry brigade combat team to two. The BCTs will be more robust. We’ve added an additional battalion, additional fires and additional sustainment capabilities. … The 3rd ID is still an infantry division, but I think it changes some things.
“Previously, we didn’t do a lot of air-assault operations. The 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade will have to hone up on its skills for that. … The 1st ABCT will be the only armored brigade combat team east of the Mississippi River, and for about a year now we’ve been under the XVIII Airborne Corps’ Rapid Reaction Corps, so we’ll have to maintain some armor capabilities at a higher state of readiness if it’s needed.”
He said units from the 1st ABCT will deploy to Europe next year for a training mission. The number of troops going depends on what they can afford, he said. Blackburn offered a clarification of “afford,” explaining it depends on how many resources the Secretary of Defense wants to commit to Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Murray said the 2ndABCT officially will case its colors for inactivation Jan. 15, and then in June, the 4thInfantry Brigade Combat Team will case its colors and be reflagged as the 2ndInfantry Brigade Combat Team. The 2ndIBCT then will rotate to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., he said.
Murray stressed the importance of the Nov. 17 listening session at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center, emphasizing it is the community’s last opportunity to talk directly with the Army about why Fort Stewart’s troop strengths should not be reduced. The session is at 6 p.m.
“Right now, we’re the No. 1 employer in Coastal Georgia,” Murray said. “Every soldier we lose will have an economic impact on the community. What I’d really like to focus on is the strategic importance value of Fort Stewart and the (Southeast) coast, from Charleston to Jacksonville.”
Murray responded frankly when asked to compare the drawdown in Afghanistan with the drawdown in Iraq. He said the drawdown processes were similar, explaining American forces prepared and provided the Iraqis with as much opportunity for success as possible. They would do the same for Afghanistan, he said. At some point, however, U.S. forces have to come home.
In his closing remarks, Murray said nearly all 468 eastern redbud trees at Warriors Walk have been replaced with crape myrtles. He said that on Friday evening, Dec. 12, there will be a special tree-burning ceremony of the last half-dozen redbud trees. The ashes will be bagged and available for family members, he said.