By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2008 - As Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno was urging the Army's return to 12-month deployments, an Army brigade here just back from Iraq was getting word that it's time to start training for its next combat rotation. Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade understand firsthand the demands of the current 1-to-1 rotation cycle, in which troops typically get 12 to 15 months at home between 15-month deployments.
The "Long Knife Brigade" has been back from Iraq just over two months, has yet to receive most of its equipment and weapons systems, and still is wrapping up the myriad details of returning home.
But yesterday its commander, Army Col. Stephen Twitty, said he would call on his soldiers at a ceremony reflagging the unit as 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, to begin focusing on getting ready for the next deployment. Based on current rotation schedules, that would feasibly be just a year away.
"After March 4, we face a new day," Twitty said. He acknowledged that re-establishing a combat mindset within the brigade starts with him.
"I have to drive that train as a commander, because they are going back into combat pretty soon," he said. "So I have to motivate them. I have to train them. I have to do all those hard things and get them ready to go to war."
In some ways, the brigade is caught between redeploying and deploying again. Its 4,000 soldiers finished their mandatory two-week reintegration training designed to help them readjust to the peacetime garrison environment. They took their block leave, and just recently received much of the individual gear they had shipped back.
But the bulk of their equipment – including vehicles, Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Paladin howitzers – hasn't yet returned to Fort Bliss because it's getting depot-level maintenance.
"In Iraq, almost all our equipment was used every day. It was run into the dirt," said Army Lt. Col. Jeff Stewart, brigade executive officer. "So instead of shipping it back here, we shipped it to the depot, where they do a reset. They do maintenance on it, strip it down, build it back up from the ground up."
But even as unit equipment and weapons systems trickle back to Fort Bliss and the brigade gets its computer and phone systems back online, there's a clear understanding that it's time to start thinking about pre-deployment training.
Six months worth of training schedules fastened to Twitty's office walls show the emphasis that training will get through the rest of the fiscal year. April 1 marks the beginning of individual training. Dark blue ink designates days spent in the field – about 25 percent of the time between now and October.
"That's a lot of field time," Twitty conceded. "But that's the way you do it. You have to say, 'Yes, we did a great job, we went on leave, and now it's time to refocus.' You have to get to the field and do it."
Twitty said he plans to integrate the lessons he and his soldiers learned in Iraq. And Lesson One, he said, is that junior officers and noncommissioned officers have to be able to think on their feet and be empowered to make decisions.
"This counterinsurgency war has to be fought at the lower levels," he said. "The team leader, the squad leader, the platoon leader (and) the platoon sergeant ... have to make decisions on the ground in order to protect their soldiers and the civilians and the infrastructure.
"So what I try to install into, not only my staff, but the battalion-level staffs, is, 'Let the small-unit leaders fight the war, and let us support them in that fight and not micromanage them,'" Twitty said.
Twitty said he'll run his upcoming field exercises just as he ran combat operations, authorizing soldiers to make important calls. Troops will train to call in artillery and mortars, call for helicopter support, even Air Force air support if they need it. "It's not going to be the battalion commander and the brigade commander calling this stuff," he said.
"That's how we executed it in Iraq this last time," he said, noting that "the junior NCOs couldn't believe they had that latitude."
Twitty recalled several times in Iraq, flying in his helicopter and hearing a young specialist or noncommissioned officer on the ground calling for air support because his soldiers were in trouble. "That's what I want – not, 'Can I get permission from the captain, from the battalion commander, from the brigade commander?'" Twitty said.
He credits this philosophy with building leadership throughout his ranks and giving his soldiers the tools they need to be successful. "And we're going to build upon that by going back into the field," he said.
"If we come out of the field with soldiers understanding that they can make those decisions when they're in combat, and the junior leaders understand that they can lead their soldiers the way they are supposed to lead them, I think we will accomplish a lot," he said.