Reflagging Evokes Pride, Bittersweet Reflection
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT BLISS, Texas, March 3, 2008 There’s a sense of loss here as soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team prepare to close a chapter in the short history of the brigade they stood up from scratch, took to war, then returned home to reflag.
Army Col. Stephen Twitty, commander of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, leads more than 3,000 of his soldiers through the streets of downtown El Paso, Texas, during a Welcome Home Heroes Parade, Feb. 27, 2008. Photo by Staff Sgt. Paula Taylor, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The 4-1 Cavalry will case its colors tomorrow and be redesignated 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The reflagging will herald the first major step in moving 1st Armored Division, currently based in Germany, to Fort Bliss.
The 4-1 Cavalry name will move to Fort Hood, Texas, to be assumed by the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade.
During the reflagging ceremony, Army Col. Stephen Twitty, 4-1 Cavalry commander, and his command team will remove their Stetson hats, a historic symbol of their cavalry roots, and don traditional Army berets. They’ll also case the colors of the 4-1 Cavalry -- the unit they built from the bottom up and took to combat one year later, enduring the loss of 31 of their own during a 15-month deployment.
“It is going to be an emotional event, seeing the flag that we worked so hard to build (being cased),” Twitty said. “Every thread in the colors of those flags, they stand for something. … We had to pretty much sew that flag over these three years.”
But Twitty said the brigade’s legacy will live on long after his soldiers bid farewell to the “Long Knife Brigade.” They named the unit in homage to cavalrymen the Indians nicknamed “Long Knives” during the Indian wars because they carried long cavalry sabers.
Twitty reflected last week on just how far the brigade has come since he arrived at Fort Bliss in August 2005 to stand it up. Command Sgt. Maj. Stephan Frennier was already on the ground, with a grand total of 40 soldiers and little else on which to build.
“We didn’t have anything,” Twitty said. “We didn’t have barracks to consolidate our soldiers. We didn’t have any equipment. We didn’t have desks. We didn’t have pens, paper, toilet paper for the soldiers to use. … This was a brigade combat power that did not have anything.”
What the unit did have was a mandate to prepare to go to war. So as the brigade received incoming soldiers, scrounged for places to put them and awaited the arrival of its equipment and large combat platforms, its leaders borrowed rifles, machine guns and training aids to conduct individual training and small-arms marksmanship.
Twitty gave his troops a glimpse into the herculean task that awaited them during the brigade’s activation ceremony Oct. 18, 2005, at Fort Bliss’ Noel Field.
“We will face many challenges ahead: completing the stand-up of the brigade combat team; fielding the finest equipment in the world; and standing by if called upon to fight and win our nation’s wars,” he said. “My right-hand man, Command Sergeant Major Steve Frennier, and I pledge our 100 percent commitment, loyalty and leadership to this combat team. We are honored to be a part of your ranks.”
A year and one day after its activation ceremony, the brigade deployed the first of its units to Iraq.
Getting to that point was no easy task. The brigade’s Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Paladin howitzers began arriving in January 2006, but Fort Bliss’ ranges weren’t yet ready to accommodate all their operations. The last heavy maneuver brigade at Fort Bliss, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, left in the mid-1990s.
Just as they’d gone to other Fort Bliss units to beg or borrow equipment and weapons until their own arrived, the brigade’s soldiers got with the post’s range controllers to come up with solutions.
“Soldiers and noncommissioned officers will make anything happen,” Frennier said. “If you tell them you have to resupply with pack mules, they’ll figure out a way to resupply with pack mules.”
Another curve ball came when the brigade learned its deployment had been moved up a month. “I wanted to pull out what little hair I had on my head,” Twitty said with a laugh.
To stem rumors, he called a brigade formation, telling his soldiers they would deploy early and should expect to be in combat at least 18 months. Later, when the Army announced it was extending deployments to 15 months, the news came as a relief, not a surprise, to the brigade soldiers and their family members, Twitty said.
The 4-1 Cavalry hit another roadblock as it was preparing to go to the National Training Center for its pre-deployment certification exercise. Two days before leaving for Fort Irwin, Calif., Twitty was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He underwent emergency surgery, missing the brigade’s NTC rotation. “I was in the hospital, wishing I was there with the soldiers,” he said.
When his unit deployed for Iraq, Twitty was still undergoing radiation treatments. But the day after his last treatment, he picked his bags and headed out to join his brigade in Iraq.
“My wife thought I was crazy,” he said, chuckling as he shook his head from side to side. “But there was no way I was going to send this brigade combat team off to war and not be there with them. I couldn’t do it. After building this team, there was no way I was going to be left out of going with the team.”
The Long Knife Brigade’s experience in making do and adapting to change proved valuable when it arrived in Kuwait, only to learn that its mission in Iraq had changed.
“When we initially set out for deployment, we were bound for Ramadi,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Stewart, brigade executive officer. Brigade leaders had gone to Ramadi for a pre-deployment site survey. “All our planning and everything we had prepared for was focused there,” Stewart said.
Just as it was about to move north for Ramadi, the brigade learned that it was to go instead to Iraq’s northwestern Ninevah province to relieve the 2nd Infantry Division’s 3rd Stryker Brigade.
One Long Knife unit, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, was to split off from the brigade and go to Baghdad as part of the troop surge there.
Losing one of its two combined-arms battalions was bad enough operationally, but Stewart said it had an emotional impact, too. “It’s a blow,” he said. “We consider them part of the family, and we didn’t like to see part of the family separated. But we knew the mission and knew that the guys in theater were trying to balance capabilities and figure out the best mix of forces, so we understood that it had to be that way.”
Frennier said the challenges of quickly standing up the brigade and getting it ready to go to war paid off in making it adaptable to these and other changes it faced.
“I think it helped us in the long run, because growing up the way we did and having to overcome so many obstacles made us have to think on our feet,” he said. “Our soldiers and leaders were the most flexible I have seen in my 27-plus years in the Army.”
Throughout the deployment, the brigade focused on helping the Iraqis help themselves.
“We realized that in a counterinsurgency fight, the population is key,” Stewart said. “Colonel Twitty made it very clear up front that the Iraqis are the key to victory and we couldn’t do it on our own. So our efforts were focused on the Iraqis and helping them build up, leading them to self-government, and leading their security forces to independent capabilities.
“We went over there with that mindset, and I think it really paid off,” he said.
Twitty insisted that Iraqi security forces be part of operations in his battle space, a 14,000-square-mile area with 2.8 million residents and one of Iraq’s largest cities, Mosul.
“I directed to my soldiers that we would not conduct an operation unless we had the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army with us,” he said. “It was important, because it is their country. We are more than happy to fight for their country, but they have able-bodied people who can do the same thing, so I wanted them there.”
This arrangement enabled Iraqi security forces to learn from and develop trust in the U.S. troops as they fought side by side against a common enemy. It also helped the Iraqis gain confidence in their own abilities, Twitty said.
Both the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi army divisions that the Long Knife soldiers partnered with in Ninevah province were certified as independent units and moved under control of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command during the deployment.
“When we first got there, they were capable of small-unit independent operations,” Stewart said. “By the time we left, they were capable of full brigade independent operations.”
Frennier said he was amazed to watch his soldiers succeed at missions they had “absolutely had no training for.” The soldiers came up with better ways to run a checkpoint between Iraq and Syria, adopted a rotating patrol system so they could cover their vast battle space, set up joint security stations in Baghdad with Iraqi security forces and helped lay groundwork for the new concerned local citizens program.
“It was amazing to watch them,” Frennier said. “It was really impressive to see their fighting spirit and their resiliency.”
Twitty said he watched his soldiers mature, individually and as a new brigade.
“Over a 14-month period, we all got to know each other,” he said. “I got to know the strengths and weaknesses of every single one of my leaders. I got to know which battalion I could send on a special mission … and know it would be accomplished to my standards. And we got to know each other on a personal level, too.”
The brigade’s soldiers came to rely on each other, Frennier said, particularly as it lost 31 soldiers and had 150 more seriously wounded.
“The bad days bring units closer together, because you have to help each other get over that tragedy,” he said. “The soldiers lean on each other as well as the leaders to help them out after a bad day, and to help get them back in the right frame of mind.”
Just over two months after the last brigade troops returned home to Fort Bliss, Frennier said the closeness built in Iraq continues.
“Before you leave, in most cases, you shake hands,” he said. “But during the deployment and after you come back, you hug. That shows you how the relationship amongst soldiers, leaders and units changes.”
Saying goodbye to the brigade they stood up and served in combat leaves many Long Knife soldiers with a sad feeling of loss. Tomorrow’s reflagging ceremony will start a chain of events in which nearly half the brigade’s soldiers leave for other units or out of the Army. Twitty and every one of his battalion commanders will pass their commands to a new command group June 24.
Serving in the 4-1 Cavalry “was very short, but also very personal for us, because we lived the whole thing,” Stewart said. “Everything this brigade has accomplished was us. So it’s a very personal history.”
After the reflagging, the 4-1 Cavalry name will live on, to be assumed by the 4-4 Infantry at Fort Hood. “It’s tough,” Frennier said as he anticipated the reflagging. “You just came back from combat with these colors, and now we’re going to give these colors to another unit. It’s bittersweet.”
With the 4-4 Infantry currently preparing for its upcoming deployment, Frennier said, he’s proud that the Long Knife Brigade’s legacy will live on and its colors will continue to fly. “Within a few months, those colors will be back in Iraq,” he said.
Passing the brigade flag for the first time, Twitty said, he recognizes he and his soldiers are making history.
“This flag hasn’t been passed down at all,” he said. “So it’s important to me, and to the Army, that people thoroughly understand the short legacy of this brigade combat team. And in a short period of time, the history of this brigade is pretty good, I think.”
Twitty credits his soldiers with laying the foundation for a lasting brigade legacy.
“We all came together, and it took all of us to build this brigade,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this alone. My brigade staff couldn’t have done this alone. I credit the building of this brigade to the soldiers.
“Because, regardless of what we told them to do -- and some of those things were pretty significant -- they did it, and they did it with pride,” he said. “I am definitely proud of these soldiers here.”