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News Call


The 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, which deployed to Iraq for a scheduled 15 months last summer, is returning to Fort Bragg, N.C., this month, three months earlier than expected. The unit was based at Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq and protected convoys along the roads from Kuwait and Jordan into Baghdad.

Maj. Tom Earnhardt, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, said the 1st Brigade would leave Iraq in mid-July and be replaced by the 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, which is ready to deploy early. “The Devils,” he said, “have performed tremendously well … and we’re ready to welcome them home.”

The unit received its nickname from an entry in a German officer’s diary found after the World War II battle on Anzio beachhead. He had written: “American parachutists … devils in baggy pants … pop up from nowhere, and we never know when or how they will strike next.”

The 82nd began notifying families of the redeployment of the 3,500 paratroopers in May. When they return to North Carolina, it will be the first time in three years that all four of the division’s brigades are together there at the same time. The 2nd Brigade led the U.S. troop surge into Baghdad in 2007, the 3rd Brigade was one of the first units to complete a 15-month deployment to Iraq and will return in the fall, and the 4th Brigade redeployed from Afghanistan in April.

The efforts of Army engineers have been critical to the counterinsurgency fight in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The construction of a combat outpost (COP) is essential to the effort in three ways: It allows ground forces to interact with local people, hinders the infiltration of insurgents from bordering Pakistan and serves as a base from which soldiers can fight.

The terrain and climate in the rugged border area of eastern Afghan-istan make building an outpost there a special challenge. The 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), out of Fort Lewis, Wash., which deployed as part of Task Force (TF) Pacemaker in February 2007, recently completed one near the village of Margah in eastern Paktika Province. Company B, also known as the Bulldogs, of the 864th first coordinated with the local inhabitants to determine where the new COP would be built. Village elders were grateful when the old COP was moved from their district center.

The high altitude, steep slopes and solid-rock terrain tried the skill and patience of the soldiers. During the first days of construction, the Bulldogs of TF Pacemaker pounded pickets into the rocky mountainside of the site less than a few kilometers from the Pakistan border. Then they drilled into the rock to place charges and set off more than 300 pounds of explosives to carve the mountaintop into a suitable site for a base.

The engineers constructed the base walls from hesco bastions—wire baskets filled with dirt—then raised and set perpendicular pillars to begin building the guard towers. While some soldiers worked on the towers, others constructed fortified working and living areas. They knew they were under constant enemy surveillance and might be attacked at any time.

In addition to the Margah Combat Outpost, TF Pacemaker constructed more than 200 buildings, among them 12 brick and mortar facilities. More than 1,600 soldiers benefited from the warm and durable living conditions the soldiers created. During the 864th Engineer Combat Battalion’s tour, TF Pacemaker built 93 kilometers of new roads and supervised the construction of an additional 217 kilometers by Afghan contractors. The roads improved the mobility of Coalition forces, linked key district centers and created new routes for communication and commerce among Afghan communities. The task force also supervised or helped in the construction of eight schools, 11 wells, four solar light projects and other efforts valued at nearly $3.6 million in local civilian development before redeploying to Fort Lewis last May.

At the request of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, two NATO allies, Great Britain and the Netherlands, have agreed to extend their commands in southern Afghanistan from nine to 12 months. In a DoD news release, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell explained that U.S. commanders have pointed to the length of rotations as a problem for forces on the ground in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadians, currently in command there, are scheduled to relinquish it to the Dutch in November. The Dutch have agreed to extend their command to 12 months; the British, who are scheduled to take command from them, will also serve for a year. The Netherlands will be the first NATO International Security Assistance Force country to command in southern Afghanistan for a full year. The new arrangement, according to Morrell, “will provide greater predictability, continuity [and] stability in this volatile but vitally important region of Afghanistan.”

The United States is slated to take command from Great Britain in November 2010. Secretary Gates has questioned whether having two combatant commands in Afghanistan—the U.S. troops of Combined Joint Task Force-101 in Regional Command East and the NATO troops of Regional Command South—is a good idea. Morrell said that the issue is being discussed, but that no decision has been made.

The command extensions have no effect on the troop rotations of European nations in Afghanistan; they are typically three to six months long.

The Soldier Weapons Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., has ordered three prototypes of a new, lightweight .50-caliber machine gun and will test them in coming months. At the Association of the U.S. Army’s Winter Symposium in February, Army officials said they were stepping up efforts to procure a lighter, modernized .50-caliber machine gun. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GD ATP) was awarded a $9 million contract to fund development of the machine gun and system components such as the tripod and vehicle adapter assembly.

The 38-pound machine gun weighs less than half as much as the 82-pound M2. The new weapon also fires with less recoil force; it has 250 pounds of recoil force, one-quarter that of the M2. Col. Carl Lipsit, program manager for soldier weapons at Picatinny Arsenal, called the M2 “a marvelous weapon that contributed to our success on the battlefield since it was fielded. But the times have changed, technology has changed and the way we fight wars has changed over time.”

The LW 50 fires 200 to 300 rounds per minute at a distance of up to 2,000 meters. It is intended to be quickly mounted on light vehicles’ common remotely operated weapon station, a turret remotely controlled by soldiers by means of a joystick and a video screen. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has already test-fired the new machine gun.

Army evaluators and SOCOM will test the three prototype LW 50s at a GD ATP facility. “This contract gets us started to develop a weapon design,” Bob Cavoretto, GD ATP senior program manager for advanced crew-served weapons, told Defense News. The company will refine the design of the weapon based on lessons learned during testing. “The intent,” he said, “is to submit a follow-on proposal which would go in during the early quarter of next year to support government development.”

Plans call for more prototype testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., by 2010 and low-rate initial production in 2011. The contract could lead to orders for thousands of LW 50s. The goal is to augment the inventory rather than to replace the M2, which has been a combat fixture for 75 years.

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which had planned since 2006 to serve as a way to bring U.S. military missions on the African continent under one organization, has shelved plans to build a new headquarters there and has stepped back from representing itself as an organization that spans military and nonmilitary entities. The command, now headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, will become an independent unified command by October 1 and assume control of ongoing U.S. military missions in Africa.

Gen. William E. (Kip) Ward, first commander of AFRICOM, told a news editor for the Council on Foreign Relations that the initial reaction to the creation of the command—fears that the U.S. might be militarizing foreign policy or planning to build bases and operating garrisons in Africa—“created angst.” To allay such fears, he said, “What we’ve done is reinforce that we are here to add value to the ongoing programs.”

About 24 of the 182 current military missions have been transferred to AFRICOM, which will also take over the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a 2,000-person base in Djibouti, on the east coast of Africa. The rest of the operations, most of them humanitarian missions or military-to-military training efforts, will transfer when the command is ready. It is focused now on organizing the 1,300 people authorized to it; some 550 have joined it thus far.

AFRICOM uses 13 offices of defense cooperation (the name will change to offices of security cooperation) at U.S. embassies in African capitals and plans to open 11 more over the next several years. Each office is typically staffed by two to four people who serve as liaisons between U.S. and host-nation militaries.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. presented the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Awards for 2007 to 28 commissioned and warrant officers from the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard in a May ceremony at the Pentagon. The award, created in 1987 by the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Foundation, recognizes company-grade officers who demonstrate Gen. MacArthur’s ideals of “duty, honor, country.”

Army major commands nominate a prescribed number of eligible soldiers for the award every year and forward each selectee’s information to the Pentagon for review. Criteria for selection include leadership, proficiency, values, team-building, influence and personal skills. The soldiers honored at the Pentagon trained Iraqis in war, law, governance and economics as well as commanded multiple companies in combat. Gen. Casey told the audience: “The common thread that binds soldiers together, that causes men and women to do extraordinary things, is the kind of leadership we celebrate here today.”

For the full list of honorees, visit