A Fort Carson brigade will go from shoe leather to wheels in a shift that will add about 200 soldiers to the post.
The post’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team will transition from ground-pounding infantry to eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles after it returns from Afghanistan early next year. The shift will boost the brigade from 4,200 soldiers to about 4,400 as the unit adds hundreds of the 18-ton armored vehicles to its inventory.
It’s not the shift that locals expected. The unit had been on the block to shift to a fully armored unit with 72-ton tanks. Along with that change came the possibility of Fort Carson losing the unit as the Army examined relocating it to bases in Texas and Kansas.
“We dodged a bullet there,” said Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
In the end, the Army found a solution that leaves everybody but Kansas happy. The Infantry unit at Carson gets Stryker vehicles and a Stryker unit at Fort Bliss, Texas, gets tanks.
Lamborn said the decision to grow the Army’s footprint in Colorado Springs shows the Pentagon’s continuing love for the region.
“This shows that Fort Carson remains a high priority at the Pentagon,” Lamborn said. “It solidifies and entrenches Fort Carson’s position.”
For the Army, it means two brigades that are better-equipped for a high-stakes war against foes like Iran or North Korea.
“The Army leadership determined that we needed to convert two brigade combat teams to armor and Stryker in order to deter our near-peer adversaries or defeat them if required,” Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, the Army’s director of force management, said in an email.
The change also means that Fort Carson’s 4th Infantry Division is no longer the weirdest division in the Army. Usually, Army divisions are made up of either infantry troops, mechanized infantry or armor.
The 4th Infantry had all three. For wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that was a good thing. The mix of capabilities made the Fort Carson division the Army’s Swiss Army knife, because it could be called on for almost anything.
But as the Army switches back to “great power competition” — the newfangled phrase that translates roughly to “Cold War” — the Army might have to fight with full divisions.
That made the 4th Infantry formation a freaky one, with one brigade chewing up the battlefield in tanks, another rolling along in Strykers and a third, miles behind, running in boots in an attempt to catch up.
Strykers aren’t tanks. Their thick armor can stop rifle fire but not much more. But they do beat walking.
The Strykers also carry a growing set of weapons, ranging from 105 mm weapons and 120 mm mortars to a new experimental version that carries a laser to knock down enemy missiles and drones.
The vehicles are also quick, hitting freeway speeds even on rough terrain, making them ideal vehicles on large battlefields such as those in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
And Strykers can do things that tanks cannot. The vehicles are road-worthy, complete with turn signals, meaning that the Stryker brigade can get to where it needs to go without loading it onto trucks or trains.
This was demonstrated in Colorado in 2017, when the post’s 1st Brigade Combat Team sent 1,200 vehicles — including the unit’s Strykers — in a 140-mile convoy to the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site outside Trinidad.
Lt. Gen. Joe Anderson, a former Fort Carson commander who now handles planning for the Army as an deputy chief of staff at the Pentagon, said the Stryker’s ability to drive to Pinon Canyon was a key factor in putting them in Colorado Springs.
Anderson said another advantage of having the Strykers at Fort Carson is that the post will now have two similar units. That means they can trade personnel and parts as needed when one of the unit has to deploy in a hurry.
“It makes sense,” he said.
The change announced Thursday, along with the addition of a 800-soldier security force assistance brigade announced in May, will push the population of the post to about 26,000 soldiers.
© 2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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