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81st Armor Brigade (Separate)

The federal mission of the 81st Armor Brigade (Separate) is to mobilize and deploy to a theater of operations to conduct combat operations, redeploy, and demobilize. Its state mission is to be prepared for employment in the protection of life and property, and the preservation of peace, order, and public safety, and/or disaster relief operations as required.

The 81st Armor Brigade (Separate), Washington Army National Guard, came into existence (as "straight-leg" infantry) on 1 January 1968 under the command of Brigadier General Albert Kaye. But its origins go back to World War I.

In the process of mobilizing for overseas deployment in 1917, the Army determined that it needed large maneuver formations - divisions. Divisions were formed from existing small units; the 41st Division comprised National Guard elements from eight western states including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The combat regiments in each division were collected into one artillery and two infantry brigades.

The 41st was one of the earliest divisions to embark for Europe - in December, 1917 - but once there, it was tabbed to train and process replacements to fill out the rosters of other arriving divisions. Additionally, it was tasked as a depot division. While many of its soldiers were reassigned to the front, and its artillery brigade saw action and occupation duty, neither of its infantry brigades saw combat action.

Postwar reconstitution retained the division in the Pacific Northwest and assigned the 81st Brigade, commanding the 161st (Washington) and 163rd (Montana) Infantry Regiments, to Washington. The headquarters circulated around the state to the city of the Brigade commander, moving six times in twelve years. Not until 1936 was a headquarters company activated.

Between the wars, the brigade gained the distinction of procuring, and then recommending for general Army adoption, a unit communications system fabricated by the Spokane Radio Co.

1937 divisional maneuvers preceded the September, 1940 activation for World War II. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the division converted from a "square" (4-regiment) to "triangular" (3-regiment) configuration, losing its 161st Infantry Regiment to the 25th Division. At this point, the component brigades were deleted in favor of the more flexible Regimental Combat Team approach.

It took the demise of the 41st Division to resuscitate the 81st Brigade. In the mid-60s, the Defense Department, under Secretary Robert McNamara, moved seriously toward abolishing the National Guard altogether. As part of the process, the 41st was disbanded. But McNamara's band of system analysts was thwarted - in part by politics, in part by Vietnam. For many Guard units which had belonged to multi-state divisions, this change meant activation of separate brigades. The 81st in Washington and 41st (not 82nd) in Oregon, picked up the heritage of their respective elements. At this point, the 161st Infantry, which had been restored to the Division upon postwar reactivation in the 1940s, again became the core fighting element of the 81st.

In 1971, a reorganization converted the brigade into mechanized infantry, deleted the 161st's Second Battalion, and added the 303rd Armor. As the latest DOD concept of Total Force completed the repudiation of McNamara's failed plan, an "affiliation program" began that linked the units of the brigade (for training) to sister units of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis. At least one Army officer recalls the partnership between a battalion from the 9th and (future State Adjutant General) LTC Keith Eggan's 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry at annual training in 1973 as the very first attempt to implement the concept.

When the 9th became a "high-tech test bed" in the mid-1980s, the affiliation switched to the 4th Infantry Division. Later, the 81st became an asset of I Corps (at Fort Lewis), then assigned as an organic ("roundout") brigade to its old partner the 9th Division. While in that status, it gave up its striking Raven insignia for the division patch. When the 9th Division inactivated, a casualty of the post-Cold War force reduction, the 81st again became a separate brigade, now with a dedicated wartime mission to augment ("roundup") the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea.

The 81st normally conducts annual training at Yakima Training Center in Eastern Washington except in 1980 when the eruption of Mt. St. Helen and the subsequent ash-fallout forced training to be moved to Fort Lewis. The Governor has called-up the 81st to State Active Duty on several occasions to protect lives and property from natural disasters; in December, 1975 the 81st fought flood waters during the Snohomish River valley flood, in May, 1980 the eruption of Mt. St. Helens required Guard support, in November, 1990 the "Thanksgiving Day Floods" caused the Governor to declare 19 counties as federal disaster areas, and most recently from late July to early September, 1994 massive forest fires in Eastern Washington. At the height of "Firestorm '94" 2,300 81st personnel were fighting fires and providing support for local, state and federal agencies.

The 3,600-member 81st, one of the nation's 15 National Guard "enhanced readiness" or E-brigades, was federalized in November 2003 to enter the rotation for service in Iraq. Most of its troops, about 2,000, trained at and were sent from the US Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, CA. Many of the 81st's armored troops have been retrained on a steep learning curve as infantry.

Prior to the departure, the brigade conducted extensive convoy operation training at Fort Lewis, the National Training Center, and Camp New York, Kuwait. Soldiers in Kuwait underwent live fire exercises that allowed them the opportunity to engage known threat targets from a moving vehicle. Training also emphasized the establishment of 360 security after dealing with hypothetical attacks or break-downs. Once the vehicles were stopped, drivers and passengers dove from their seats into the sand to provide firing coverage on all sides. Other training exercises focused on rehearsals for self-recovery of broken-down vehicles and the evacuation of casualties. 81st BCT soldiers set out from Kuwait equipped with tow chains, well-stocked first aid kits, and detailed plans for any type of recovery or evacuation.

As a result of their detailed preparations, the soldiers were able to handle slight mechanical break-downs that arose during the convoy north. Some vehicles that required towing were transferred to other locations for maintenance assessments while others were attached to wreckers or larger trucks and towed for the remainder of the trip north. The Military Police (MP) Platoon joined forces with other MPs to pave the way for the rest of the brigade. They controlled traffic at intersections, scanned for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and provided security at check points. The MPs also ensured that the convoy stayed on its planned course. The convoy left Kuwait well-trained and ready for anything they might encounter along the way.

Various elements of the 81st BCT were divided into multiple serials that comprised the three day journey. The first leg of the journey began at noon and lasted only a few hours. Soldiers moved to a location near the Kuwait-Iraq border where they were able to relax and brace themselves for the move into Iraq. The highlight of the first night was the food stands provided inside the camp. Hungry soldiers spent their evening waiting in the snaking lines for their pizzas and double tall mochas. Day Two began shortly after midnight, as sleepy soldiers packed up their cots and departed on the next stretch of the trip. Although energy levels were high, many soldiers struggled to stay awake and alert during the early hours of the convoy. Once the sun rose, however, soldiers were treated to a large and varied expanse of countryside, a welcome change from the seemingly endless stretches of sand they had encountered in Kuwait. As the convoy moved north, the Iraqi population gave the 81st BCT soldiers a warm reception. Along the dusty, unimproved roads in the south, people clad in the traditional flowing robes turned away from their herds of sheep and camel to wave as the serials passed. Children gestured requests for water and food and shouted greetings to the soldiers.

Most of the 4,500 members of the 81st arrived in Iraq in April 2004, as fighting flared in Baghdad, Fallujah and other areas.

  • 1-161st Infantry Battalion, LSA Highlander, adjacent to the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone), in Baghdad. They are attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division and are conducting combat operations and civil-military operations in SE Baghdad.
  • 1-303rd Armor Battalion, Camp Victory South, Baghdad, conducting base security
  • 1-185th Armor Battalion (CA ARNG), 3 locations south of Baghdad, providing security for main supply routes under the CJTF7
  • 2-146th Field Artillery Battalion, 1 battery in Saudi (location not released) providing base security, under CFLCC, and the rest of the battalion at Camp Arifjan Kuwait, providing base security, also under CFLCC control
  • 181st Support Battalion, Logistic Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, Balad providing base security under CJTF7 control
  • 898th Engineer Battalion has been broken down to detachments and dispersed to support 81st BCT units at several locations
  • Troop E, 303rd Calvary, Camp Doha, Kuwait, providing base security, under CFLCC control
  • D-216th Air Defense Artillery (MN ARNG), Baghdad International Airport providing air defense under CJTF7 control

The 81st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) accepted authority for the defense of Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad from the 1st BCT of the 82nd Airborne Division during a Transfer of Authority ceremony at LSA Anaconda 18 April 2004. With numerous guests and personnel watching the ceremony, BG Oscar Hilman, 81st BCT Commander, accepted the job of security from COL Patrick Donahue II, Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade. The Fort Bragg, NC unit has overseen operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II since January. Comprised mostly of the 3rd Battalion "Blue Devils", 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, they conducted thousands of patrols; manned guard towers and entry control points, and conducted numerous raids resulting in the seizure of weapons now no longer available to anti-coalition forces. This was the first time the 81st Brigade hds served as a combat element in theater since World War II. Their movement to Iraq represented the largest deployment of the Washington State National Guard, with assigned units from California and Minnesota, since that war.

During the deployment, the 81st Brigade's units were stationed accross multiple locations in and around the Baghdad area as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry was stationed in the Green Zone, while the 1st Battalion, 303rd Armor, was at Camp Victory South; the 181st Support Battalion was at LSA Anaconda; the 216th Air Defense Artillery at Baghdad IAP; Troop E, 303rd Cavalry at Camp Doha, Kuwait; another Armor Battalion dispersed accross three sites south of Baghdad; a Field Artillery Battalion in Kuwait ant Saudi Arabia, and the 898th Engineer Battalion dispersed accross multiple sites.

1-303rd Armor Battalion, and 1-161 Infantry Battalion of the 81st BCT conducted their Transfer of Authority ceremony's on April 17 with their respective out-going units. The 1-303rd Armor Battalion accepted authority for Camp Victory South in Baghdad from the 2-505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st BCT during its Transfer of Authority ceremony. The 1-161 Infantry Battalion accepted authority from 2-6 Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division during its Transfer of Authority ceremony in Baghdad. The 1-161 Battalion will be responsible for the security and support operations of Forward Operating Base Gunner, Al Taji, Iraq.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:32:34 ZULU