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New boss of Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team learns to travel fast

July 31, 2017 Updated: July 31, 2017 at 7:16 am
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Col. Michael J. Simmering, new commander of 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, passes the brigade colors to Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel C. Rapp, signifying his acceptance of command of the "Iron Brigade," during a change of command ceremony in Cincu, Romania, July 15, 2017. Simmering assumed command of the brigade from Col. Christopher R. Norrie, whose 20 months in command was devoted to leading the U.S. Army armored brigade that would kick off a continuous rotation of ABCTs to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)

The new leader of a Fort Carson brigade may be the Army's busiest man.

Col. Michael Simmering has been on trains, planes, automobiles and helicopters in the past week trying to meet his 3rd Brigade Combat Team subordinates, who are spread across Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

"My change of command took place in Romania," said Simmering, who has also visited his troops in Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany.

The brigade has passed the midway point of a deployment that began last winter as the Pentagon sent the brigade's more than 4,000 soldiers to Europe in a show of determination in the face of Russian aggression.

In the past seven months the brigade's troops, under the leadership of Simmering's predecessor, Col. Chris Norrie, have fired more than 1 million rounds of ammunition in the biggest series of overseas training exercises since the Cold War.

Simmering said the effect of the training on his troops is obvious.

"It is phenomenal," he said.

Simmering's job is to keep up the pace of training while preparing to ship the brigade home to Colorado this fall. And 3rd Brigade doesn't travel light. Its equipment includes scores of M-1 Abrams tanks, which weigh 72 tons each, a battalion of 30-ton armored howitzers and a large fleet of 28-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

The gear will need to be gathered and shipped by train to a port in Germany where it will be loaded aboard ships bound for Texas. From Texas, the equipment will be loaded on another train to Colorado.

"That is a huge undertaking," the colonel admitted.

But Simmering has plenty of traveling experience.

The colonel commanded a 4th Infantry Division battalion in fighting in Afghanistan. He's also served two tours in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

But unlike wartime deployments, Simmering doesn't expect 3rd Brigade to get much of a break from duty when its soldiers return to Fort Carson.

"Moving forward the brigade's focus is on maintaining the highest levels of readiness possible," he said. "When 3rd Brigade comes home, we will be combat-ready."

Simmering said he's seen impressive examples of how prepared his unit is for combat.

One key skill that American forces don't usually acquire at home is working closely with allied forces. Now, 3rd Brigade troops are able to quickly integrate North Atlantic Treaty Organization units, without cultural and language barriers.

"It is pretty impressive to see Romanian armored vehicles directly next to American armored vehicles," Simmering said, "It takes a lot of work."

Simmering's overseas change of command is also something new for Fort Carson, which has traditionally brought units home before planned leadership changes.

Without the slower pace of life at the Colorado Springs post, and with his units spread across a continent, the colonel has still managed to get to know his troops.

He's met every company commander in the outfit, all of his battalion leaders and most of his top sergeants.

"They may be a little quicker meetings than I would like," he said.

While there are disadvantages to taking command overseas, Simmering sees several big bonuses in the move.

He's taking over a winning team, rather than rebuilding a team in garrison.

"It allows new leaders to come in and take a hard look at what we need to do when we transition ourselves back to Fort Carson and to maintain that readiness," he said.

Simmering's focus on readiness comes amid rising American tension with Russia and threats and missile tests in North Korea. With a small Army facing big threats around the globe, troops must be prepared to fight.

"There are only nine armored brigades in the Army," he said.

While he's in new territory overseas, Simmering is coming home to a familiar place.

In a 24-year Army career, he's spent a decade as a Pikes Peak region resident with stops at Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base's U.S. Northern Command.

"I have been very lucky," he said.

It will take more than luck to bring his brigade back across the ocean while keeping its combat abilities razor sharp.

The Army doesn't give the new guy room for mistakes.

"It is all my fault if it's broken next year," he said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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