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Ceremony marks Fort Carson brigade's departure for Afghanistan

March 1, 2018 Updated: March 2, 2018 at 6:39 am
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photo - 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division leaders Brigade commander Col. Dave Zinn, left, and Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Anton J. Hillig, right, perform the casing ceremony right before they deployed to Afghanistan from the Arrival Departure Airfield Control Group (A/DACG) at Colorado Springs Airport on Thursday March 1, 2018. This is a ceremony where the brigade's leaders put its flag into a case for transport to the warzone. It's a symbolic way for the Army to signal its readiness for combat. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division leaders Brigade commander Col. Dave Zinn, left, and Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Anton J. Hillig, right, perform the casing ceremony right before they deployed to Afghanistan from the Arrival Departure Airfield Control Group (A/DACG) at Colorado Springs Airport on Thursday March 1, 2018. This is a ceremony where the brigade's leaders put its flag into a case for transport to the warzone. It's a symbolic way for the Army to signal its readiness for combat. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

Rifles in hand, troops from Fort Carson's 2nd Brigade Combat Team boarded a plane on Thursday bound for the United States' longest-running war.

"They understand the mission," said Col. David Zinn, the brigade's commander. "And we're deploying to Afghanistan to have an impact."

The soldiers are among a wave of Fort Carson troops heading to Afghanistan this year in a bid to help move the needle on a war entering its 17th year.

Expected to join the brigade are the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team and the division's headquarters, commanded by Maj. Gen. Randy George.

The deployments come as President Donald Trump tries to end a conflict that has dragged across three White House administrations.

Earlier this year, Trump rejected the notion of peace talks with the Taliban, months after ordering thousands of additional troops to break a stalemate in the conflict.

Zinn said his soldiers are up to the task. The brigade trained for months - most recently, wading through the swamps of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., to sharpen their counterinsurgency skills.

"They understand that a stable Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that can secure its own country, prevents a safe haven for terrorists who might threaten the United States or our allies," Zinn said.

CASING CEREMONY

The 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division soldiers relax at the Arrival Departure Airfield Control Group (A/DACG) at Colorado Springs Airport on Thursday March 1, 2018 before their deployment to Afghanistan. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

 

Sitting quietly in the crowded staging area before hopping on the flight, Pvt. Zack Blankenbecler minced no words when considering all he'd miss while overseas.

As a married father of a 1-year-old daughter, he won't get to watch her grow from an infant to a toddler.

Even so, Blankenbecler was "excited" to deploy. A native of Cincinnati, he enlisted 10 months ago to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and several uncles and cousins who also served in the military.

The prospect of being in a war zone didn't cause the infantryman to second-guess enlisting.

"It's kind of the reason we joined," Blankenbecler said.

Specifics about the brigade's mission have not been announced.

CASING CEREMONY
The 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division make their way onto the plane before they deployed to Afghanistan from the Arrival Departure Airfield Control Group (A/DACG) at Colorado Springs Airport on Thursday March 1, 2018. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team had a casing ceremony right before they departed. This is a ceremony where the brigade's leaders put its flag into a case for transport to the warzone. It's a symbolic way for the Army to signal its readiness for combat. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

But in general, Zinn said the unit is expected to continue offering advice to Afghan troops as that nation's army continues trying to ferret out insurgents and secure Afghanistan from the Taliban and the Islamic State group.

"The Afghan army continues to get better, continues to improve on a daily, on a weekly on a monthly basis," Zinn said.

The brigade is among the Army's most decorated units from the war, with three of its soldiers having received the Medal of Honor from previous deployments to the country since 2009.

While referencing the brigade's storied history, Zinn and Command Sgt. Maj. Anton Hillig carefully rolled up the brigade's flag on a Colorado Springs Airport tarmac - a military tradition meant to signal that their troops are ready for war.

"Our warhorse soldiers are trained, they're ready, they're confident and they're resolute," Zinn said. "They will serve with dignity and honor."

And with that, the two men followed their troops aboard the plane and took off.

-

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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