Clare Weeks had her hands full juggling two toddlers Thursday at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord deployment ceremony for her husband’s brigade. She knows she’s in for more of the same over the nine months Capt. Collin Weeks will spend in Afghanistan with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
“I don’t think it hit me yet,” she said. “It will.”
Weeks joined hundreds of Army families at Lewis-McChord’s main parade ground Thursday to send off about 3,000 troops in the 4th Brigade. Its deployment could be the last major mission for a Lewis-McChord brigade in Afghanistan if NATO follows through on plans to withdraw most Western troops by 2014.
Two commanders struck that point as they addressed the ranks of 4th Brigade soldiers. The unit is known as the last combat brigade to fight in Iraq, and its leaders want to leave a similar legacy in Afghanistan.
“We’re honored and humbled” by the assignment, said brigade commander Col. Michael Getchell. He is leaving on his fifth deployment since 2002.
“We’re ready for it,” he said.
Brig. Gen. B.D. Farris, the deputy commanding general of Lewis-McChord’s 7th Infantry Division, told the soldiers they were on their way to what was the home base for al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan more than a decade ago when terrorists hatched plans for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
“This is not a fight we picked, but we will finish it,” Farris said. “That’s your job.”
The 4th Brigade troops are expected to replace their fellow Stryker soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division also is deployed to southern Afghanistan.
That means all three of the base’s largest infantry brigades, representing close to 11,000 deployed soldiers, will be in Afghanistan simultaneously for much of November
Getchell’s soldiers will be asked to build on the 3rd Brigade’s work by advising Afghan security forces so they can manage their own country’s defenses by 2014.
Some 4th Brigade soldiers will work out of large forward bases; others will serve in small outposts within Afghan bases so they can better train their allies. The Army is calling the mission an “advise and assist” assignment because the Afghans are expected to take the lead.
Getchell is looking forward to relieving familiar faces in the 3rd Brigade.
“It’s personal to us,” he said. “We know who we’re replacing.”
At Thursday’s ceremony, Army spouses and parents brought out camera phones to capture images of the soldiers as they marched before Getchell and Farris. Their mood was supportive, if not a little nervous.
“It’s our first deployment, so I’m quite terrified” by the months apart and the thought of her husband being at war, said Kaye Nichols, 25.
She’s making lots of home-cooked meals for her husband, Pfc. Jonathan Nichols. They’re having their holidays early this year so Pfc. Nichols can enjoy Christmas and Thanksgiving with his loved ones.
Jennifer Barnes, 32, is taking her son and daughter to her home state of Oklahoma for this deployment. It’s her husband’s third overseas mission since they’ve been together.
This time, she thinks her children will feel the absence of Capt. Nathaniel Barnes a little more because they’re growing older.
“They’re going to have a harder time,” she said. They prepared for the deployment by making time for daddy-daughter days, and be making plans for 7-year-old Abigail to write to her father in Kandahar Province.
Clare Weeks, 26, thinks she’s just about ready to care for her kids on her own while managing the family readiness group for her husband’s company during its deployment. This is their first deployment in the four years they’ve been together.
“I’m ok with it. It’s his job and I knew that four years ago when I married him,” she said.
Brig. Gen. Farris spoke as much for the families as he did for the Army in his last guidance to the 4th Brigade.
“Get the job done. Come home safely,” he said.