Clare Weeks had her hands full juggling two toddlers Thursday at a farewell ceremony for her husband’s Stryker brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
She knows she’s in for more of the same over the next nine months. Capt. Collin Weeks is headed to 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 Wednesday to send off about 3,000 troops in the 4th Brigade.
Its deployment could be the last major Afghanistan tour for a Lewis-McChord brigade if NATO follows through on plans to withdraw most Western troops by 2014.
Two commanders touched on that point as they addressed the ranks of departing soldiers. The brigade is already 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. Mike Getchell, who is headed 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 a notorious place: what was the home base for al Qaida and the Taliban more than a decade ago when terrorists hatched plans for the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
“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. The base’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.
About 1,000 of Getchell’s soldiers will remain for now at the base south of Tacoma as a “readiness reserve.” The rest will be asked to build on the 3rd Brigade’s work by advising Afghan security forces so the Afghans 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 Wednesday’s ceremony, Army spouses and parents brought out camera phones to capture images of their soldiers as they marched before Getchell and Farris. The families’ moods were supportive, but also anxious at times.
“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 the soldier 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 of her husband, Capt. Nathaniel Barnes. It’s his third overseas tour since they’ve been together.
This time, she thinks the children will feel the absence of Dad a little more keenly because they’re growing older.
“They’re going to have a harder time,” she said. They prepared 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 while it’s gone. This is the couple’s 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.
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,” the one-star general said. “Come home safely.”