The soldiers of Fort Drum's 3rd Brigade are set to embark on their fourth Afghan deployment. The nine month stay will be one of the U.S.'s final deployments before pulling out of Afghanistan at the end of next year. As our Brian Dwyer tells us, because of budget cuts, it'll likely be the 3rd Brigade's last deployment ever.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- It's one of those historic Army traditions. Before a brigade heads on a deployment, its flags get cased up, not to fly again until the soldiers have landed, in this case, Afghanistan. The 3rd Brigade on Fort Drum, set to make its fourth tour to the country, says it has made significant progress since its first.
"It was kind of neat to see what Afghanistan was like in 2005 and see what it's like now. Don't get me wrong, there's still some challenges ahead," Brigade Commander, COL Sam Whitehurst said. "There's still an enemy that's determined to see the Afghan people, the Afghan government fail."
One such situation that highlights both ends of that spectrum is an upcoming presidential election in the spring. The 3rd, which will serve as advisors and help assist Afghans during this tour, will play a big role in helping that go as smoothly as possible.
"The way that we will influence that is through is through the Afghan security forces. We will continue to advise them," COL Whitehurst said. "We will continue to assist them with certain capabilities that they are still developing."
The 3rd is also responsible for helping the U.S. move out of bases and helping the Afghans move in.
"Some of these bases have several thousand people that currently reside on them," COL Whitehurst added. "You can imagine all the equipment that's associated with that."
But this deployment for the 3rd Brigade will be historic in more ways than one. Not only will it be one of the final deployments for our country in Afghanistan, but it'll likely be the last deployment for a very long time, if not ever. The Army will soon decommission the 3rd Brigade as part of its budget cuts.
"If it were up to me, this brigade wouldn't go away, but our nation has made that decision. They Army has made that decision. They've served that country very well," Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division Commanding General MG Stephen Townsend said of the 3rd BCT.
"It's happened after every major war that we've had," North Country Congressman Bill Owens added. "There has been something of a downsizing. I think we've done very well here at Drum."
Owens saying many of the soldiers can stay here and join the remaining brigades and also touting the new drone squadron and Fort Drum being a finalist for a missile defense program.
The Army has until 2017 to cut a dozen brigades across the country. Fort Drum will lose roughly 1,800 soldiers. If sequestration continues, it could be more.