Checking in with Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Eastern Europe

March 4, 2017 Updated: March 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm
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A U.S. Army tank crew, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, fires a round from an M1A2 Main Battle Tank during a Live Fire Accuracy Screening Test at Presidential Range in Swietozow, Poland, January 16, 2017. The arrival of 3rd Arm. Bde. Cmbt. Tm., 4th Inf. Div., marked the start of back-to-back rotations of armored brigades in Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve. The vehicles and equipment, totaling more than 2,700 pieces, were shipped to Poland for certification before deploying across Europe for use in training with partner nations. This rotation will enhance deterrence capabilities in the region, improve the U.S. ability to respond to potential crises and defend allies and partners in the European community. U.S. forces will focus on strengthening capabilities and sustaining readiness through bilateral and multinational training and exercises. (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Timothy D. Hughes)

If you want to know where Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers are stationed in eastern Europe, just listen. You'll surely hear the booms.

The more than 4,000 soldiers from Colorado Springs have been expending tank and artillery rounds at a breathtaking rate during some of the most intense training in the unit's history.

"They're going out shooting their weapons, building teams and working with our allied partners who are very capable," Col. Chris Norrie, the brigade's commander said in a telephone interview from Germany.

Norrie's troops headed to Europe in January and have fanned out across the eastern edge of the continent, covering a 1,500-mile stretch across seven nations.

Almost as soon as they got their tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Paladin artillery pieces off of ships, they started shooting.

"We have fired live ammunition every day since Jan. 20," Norrie said.

The nine-month deployment of Fort Carson soldiers is the post's largest commitment to Europe since the Cold War.

With ongoing tensions over the Russian occupation of Eastern Ukraine, the unit's mission is to deter aggression while learning how American troops can fight alongside its newest North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

Soldiers assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, based out of Fort Carson, Colo., participate in Estonia's Independence Day Parade at Freedom Square, Feb. 24, 2017, as a show of unity during Operation Atlantic Resolve, reassuring NATO Allies and strengthening deterrence capabilities with partnered forces. Operation Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. led effort in Eastern Europe that demonstrates U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Charlene Moler) 

In Latvia, Lt. Col. Steven Capehart with the brigade's 1st Battalion of the 68th Armored Regiment, said the training has forced troops to stay on their toes.

"In 17 years in the Army, I have never seen an armored brigade move this quickly," he said.

Capehart's battalion has been in daily training with their army counterparts from the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

The American troops have also gotten to know the neighbors, though, including joining in Estonia's Independence Day parade.

"That's what makes this mission so special," Capehart said. "You're able to connect with the community."

For the brigade, that community is pretty big, running from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Norrie said it's a vibrant region that has showered his brigade with adulation in its early days overseas.

"It is incredibly powerful to be here, to be immersed in the environment," said Norrie.

By training alongside those NATO nations, Norrie's troops are also accomplishing a top Army priority. The Army over the past two years has re-emphasized fighting alongside allies as a key goal.

Norrie said the allies have shown the Americans their muscle in recent weeks.

"We are one part of an already incredibly capable and strong NATO alliance," Norrie said.

The pounding pace of the training has made time fly so far, Norrie said.

"Today is our 53rd day in theater - it is crazy," he said.

It won't be slowing down anytime soon.

The brigade is building toward a massive June training exercise that will involve as many as 15,000 troops from Europe.

That's the biggest training exercise for American forces in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Norrie said the rapid pace, though, isn't wearing on his soldiers. There's a measure of pride in the brigade's job these days.

"They know they are making a difference," he said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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