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'Dragons' prepare for series of firsts

April 27, 2012

By Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs

The 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will soon encounter a series of firsts: its first deployment to Afghanistan, the first Army brigade to deploy for nine months and the first time in three deployments it will serve under its higher headquarters, the 1st Infantry Division.

The brigade's Soldiers kicked off those firsts during a colors casing ceremony Thursday, April 26, at Fort Riley's Cavalry Parade Field. A casing is a unit's symbolic last step as it prepares for a deployment.

Col. Joseph D. Wawro and Command Sgt. Maj. Wylie G. Hutchison furled the "Dragon" Brigade's colors and enclosed the flag in a cloth bag during the ceremony. At the same time, six battalion command teams did the same with their colors and the company guidons for each of those were packed away, too.

Soldiers from the brigade have already left Kansas for Afghanistan, Wawro said, and the area can expect to see more departures in the coming months.

This is a historic deployment, Wawro said. Not only because it is the brigade's first to Afghanistan or the "Dragon" Soldiers were the last to train for Operation Enduring Freedom at California's National Training Center in February, but because "we will be in arguably the most complex combat environment in physically demanding terrain while in ruthless pursuit of insurgent networks."

"We will enable the transition of the Afghan government and security forces to move them firmly in the lead," he went on to say. "Afghans leading Afghans is our goal, our charter while we're there."

Pfc. David Vasquez, a 20-year-old infantryman, said the Soldiers' roles were to help the Afghans, but "stay back and let them handle it."

"We're going to clean up and let them take over," he said.

Vasquez is preparing for his first deployment by doing well at training events like gunneries and talking to his noncommissioned officers who have deployed.

"Dragon" Soldiers will also assist in furthering infrastructure and economic development in the 1st Infantry-led Regional Command-East, Wawro said.

The brigade last returned from Iraq in September 2010. Wawro took over in November and training started in February 2011. What followed was 14 months of intense training that included countless hours in the field, live-fire exercises, air assault missions and a 30-day rotation at the National Training Center.

"We are trained and we are ready," Wawro said.

All of the training was made possible by the caliber of the "Dragon" Soldiers and leaders, he went on to say.

"Our investment has paid off."

Aside from the standard deployment preparation, about 200 of the brigade's Soldiers were sent in September to the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center in Northern California. The brigade will serve in includes mountainous terrain up to 11,000 feet high, Wawro said.

The MWTC rotation helped prepare the Soldiers for conducting operations in scenery that highly represented what they'd experience in theater, Wawro said.

With a long train-up for the "Dragons" and a dwell time of two years for some units, Hutchison, the brigade's senior noncommissioned officer, said the Soldiers are ready.

"They are more than ready," he said.

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