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Like their fathers and grandfathers, Fort Carson troops head for training in Germany

May 15, 2017 Updated: May 15, 2017 at 8:25 pm
Caption +
Lt. Col. Bo Dennis, commander of Fort Carson’s 2nd Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment, shakes hands with his soldiers Monday as they board an Air Force C-5 transport bound for Germany. The battalion sent more than 600 troops overseas as part of an exercise to see how fast the unit could deploy to Europe in a crisis. (Tom Roeder / The Gazette)

For Lt. Col. Bo Dennis, boarding a plane to Germany for Army training meant following in his father's footsteps Monday.

Dennis' battalion sent more than 600 soldiers overseas Monday in a rapid deployment exercise reminiscent of Cold War training carried out by the fathers and grandfathers of Fort Carson troops. It comes as the White House seeks to repair a rift between the U.S. and Russia that officials say has plunged the relationship to an "all-time-low" reminiscent of the Cold War's chill.

But for Dennis and his troops, the departure was the beginning of an epic adventure.

"They really embraced this mission and want to get after it," Dennis said.

It's a new version of an old mission for the Army and Fort Carson. Through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, soldiers from Colorado Springs joined in regular practice to reinforce Germany in case of Soviet threats.

European exercises dwindled after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Pentagon dusted off its plans to curb Russian aggression after the 2014 Russian incursion into Ukraine. Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division was tabbed to lead U.S. training efforts in Europe. And this year, the post's 3rd Brigade Combat Team was sent overseas, where its soldiers are dispersed through former Eastern bloc nations from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

The battalion that left Monday was sent overseas on two weeks' notice. Dennis said his troops will focus on platoon training but also understand how they fit in the shifting strategic dynamic between Washington and Moscow.

"It is not lost on us what this means," he said.

The demonstration of military might comes a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a television audience that the Trump administration wants a warmer relationship with Russia.

"It's going to take some time. It's going to take a lot of hard work," Tillerson said on "Meet The Press." "But I think the president's committed, rightly so, and I'm committed with him as well, to see if we cannot do something to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Russia."

The Washington Post on Monday reported that President Donald Trump shared intelligence secrets on terror plots with Russia's foreign minister during a White House meeting last week.

The changing relationship with Russia comes amid continuing fallout from alleged Russian meddling aimed at sinking Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election.

Soldiers in the Fort Carson battalion say they've been far too busy to keep up with the Russia news.

The 2nd Battalion was in Afghanistan nine months ago helping America's allies battle Taliban and Islamic State fighters. Since coming home, the unit has retooled, trained new troops and prepared for short-notice deployments such as the one that began Monday.

Capt. Mario Gutierrez, who commands the battalion's Apache Company, said every day has been packed since his unit went on alert 14 days ago. Commanders had to round up soldiers and equipment, run troops through health checks and other pre-deployment paperwork and have everyone ready to go in the early hours Monday.

All that work will lead to platoon-level training at Grafenwoehr Training Area in Bavaria.

"The true test is when we get out there," Gutierrez said.

Sgt. Connor O'Donnell said soldiers on his fire team were happy to see Europe. The battalion has plenty of veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but few of its soldiers have seen Germany, where America had more than 250,000 soldiers deployed through the early 1990s.

"It's an excellent opportunity," O'Donnell said.

For the Pentagon, though, the exercise shows that the Army still has the skills to get to Germany in a flash.

The Defense Department has made a major investment in the training, including allocating four of America's largest transport planes, the C-5, to haul the unit, 17 of its trucks and its luggage overseas.

Dennis, whose soldier father took part in similar exercises during the Cold War, said by boarding planes on time, his unit has passed part of the test.

"It shows the agility of this organization and writ large, the Army," he said.


Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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