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Fort Carson 'Raiders' head off to war again

May 6, 2018 Updated: May 7, 2018 at 6:04 pm
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Pfc. Devin Anderson and other Fort Carson Soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, for the long trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, May 6, 6, 2018. Because the soldiers were some of the last of the team to head to Afghanistan, a casing ceremony for their flag was held on the tarmac at the Fort Carson Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group. Pfc Anderson's home state is West Virginia. ONLINE PHOTO GALLERY (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Col. Monté Rone knows well the legacy entrusted to the care of his soldiers - the fact that his brigade, the "Raiders," have long been the nation's first into battle.

But now, he's tasked with helping bring the United States closer to ending its longest-running war.

A drumbeat of deployments to Afghanistan continued Sunday, as the post's 1st Brigade Combat Team formally bid farewell to Colorado Springs. Led by Rone, they left for a war zone swelling with Fort Carson soldiers - many of whom will be asked to help train Afghan forces and move the needle on a war entering its 17th year.

"Our formation is fit, inspired, disciplined and ready," Rone said.

They join the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which shipped out earlier this spring. And later this year, the division's headquarters will head over as well, commanded by Maj. Gen. Randy George.

Each will try to end a conflict that has spanned three White House administrations.

President Donald Trump vowed to ease restrictions on U.S. troops and allow them greater flexibility to fight the Taliban. During a recent visit to the post's 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Kandahar - a key insurgent hub in the nation's south - U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said those new rules of engagement are working.

"They are talking about how the Taliban is facing elimination," the Colorado Republican said. "The new authorities are allowing us to take the fight to them."

Even so, the tempo of those firefights have slowed in recent years as Afghan soldiers assume more responsibility in defending their country, said Lt. Col. David Uthlaut commander of the 1st Brigade's 4th Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment.

Having already deployed to Afghanistan, Uthlaut said the nation barely resembles the war zone he first encountered 15 years ago. Now, Afghan forces are doing the work that, for more than a decade, had been assigned to American troops.

"They've really taken ownership of not just the security of each of their provinces ... but really seem to be taking pride in that ownership," said Uthlaut.

Still, the nation faces deep instability. Parliamentary elections are planned for the fall, and the Taliban, ISIS and other factions have led several deadly attacks in recent months - many targeting civilians in the nation's capital of Kabul.

Most of the 1st Brigade's soldiers have never seen war, but they'll be led by a cadre of combat-hardened veterans with multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Waiting quietly to board the plane with Rone, Staff Sgt. Andrew Snow, 31, called the upcoming tour "bittersweet."

A career infantryman, his voice rose in excitement at the prospect of heading overseas once more. But, he acknowledged, it comes at a cost.

Just three weeks ago, he watched the birth of his third child, Luke.

And he knows exactly what he'll miss in the coming months, having last deployed in 2015, a mere eight weeks after the birth of his daughter.

"It was a little harder saying goodbye this time," Snow said.

Moments later, Snow hopped up the tarmac and onto the plane. Rone followed, leading a short and to-the-point farewell ceremony that invoked his unit's history.

Fort Carson's 1st Brigade Combat Team has long been the first unit called into battle - earning their nickname as the first Americans to see action in World War I. More recently, the 1st Brigade became known for capturing Saddam Hussein in 2003 in Iraq.

"We are ready, sir," said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Tennant.

They carefully rolled up the brigade's flag, slid it into a canvas sleeve and made for the war zone.

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