Ironhorse Brigade wrapping up Korea tour

by Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson and Sgt. Christopher Dennis
U.S. Army

CAMP HOVEY – The Texas-based combat brigade that’s nearing the end of a nine-month tour in Korea has spent their overseas time honing their warfighting skills in a fast-paced cycle of combat drills, live-fire gunnery, military exercises and other training, while also getting a chance to see the people and culture of Korea.

The more than 4,100 Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, known as Ironhorse, will return soon to their home station of Fort Hood, Texas, after their rotational tour as part of the 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division.

During the rotation, Ironhorse has operated out of Camp Hovey in Dongducheon.

In deploying to Korea last February, Ironhorse replaced another 1st Cavalry Division unit, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, known as the Black Jack brigade. That brigade served a nine-month Korea rotation from October 2015 to February. It was the first of the division’s brigades to serve a Korea rotation with the Combined Division.

“Our experience here has been more than simply deterring North Korean aggression,” said Col. John DiGiambattista, the Ironhorse brigade’s commander.

“As the second rotational brigade, we’ve developed more experience and proficiency in our warfighting skills,” said DiGiambattista, “whether that’s through conducting counterweapons of mass destruction training, training with our Korean partners or conducting security missions for the counterfire task force.

“In all of these opportunities our Soldiers have risen to the occasion,” he said.

There was also realistic training in launching attacks that demand intricate coordination of ground maneuver, air assault, and other actions, including fighting while wearing chemical protective gear.

In one such instance, for example, the brigade took part in a river crossing exercise in April with units of the South Korean army and with a unit from Fort Drum, N.Y.

During the training, along Korea’s Imjin River, the troops assaulted an objective by boat and helicopter, then emplaced a bridge that enabled tanks and other combat vehicles to advance to the far bank.

And through most of the brigade’s time in Korea, its units also took part in live-fire gunnery training at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Pocheon. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment held their gunnery in March and April; the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment’s turn came in April and June; the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment fired in May and June; and the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment in July and August.

The brigade also took part in peninsula-wide military exercises, including one last March that rehearsed the process of receiving U.S. forces from outside Korea, staging them, then moving them forward to the combat zone.

And the brigade served in May as host for this year’s Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing, on Camp Casey. The training saw 627 U.S. Infantry Soldiers from around the Korean peninsula, including a number of South Korean Soldiers, take on the grueling fiveday EIB testing in hopes of earning the coveted EIB.

In addition to combat training, the brigade also had a part in the process under which the bulk of the Combined Division’s forces will relocate, as part of a gradual, carefully orchestrated timetable, from Area I south to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.

That came in July, when the brigade’s 2nd Battalion,8th Cavalry Regiment, moved to Camp Humphreys from Camp Stanley in Uijeongbu.

Maj. Gen. Theodore “Ted” Martin, Commanding General of the Combined Division, hailed the milestone move when the battalion held its first formation at Camp Humphreys July 18.

“The unit you see arrayed before you, the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment – proud troopers from the world-famous U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, who are on rotation to Korea – serve as a vanguard for the force that will eventually arrive to call Camp Humphreys their home,” Martin said.

For one of the brigade’s artillery units, the Korea rotation added a footnote to their history.

The 82nd Field Artillery Regiment fired its guns in Korea for the first time since the unit was last in Korea during the Korean War of 1950-53. This time, the purpose of the firing was to certify crews and fire direction teams. And this time the weapons involved were the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.

“It helps Soldiers connect with the history of the unit and all those who went before them,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Hayes, the battalion’s commander.

For all the combat training and related activity, the brigade’s Soldiers also found time to see parts of Korea and meet some of its people.

In March and April they joined Dongducheon officials and local residents in the annual cleanup along the Sincheon River near Camp Casey.

And later they joined loca l residents in observing Korea’s Arbor Day by planting trees on a mountain near Camp Casey.

“I believe Dongducheon is the only place in South Korea where U.S. Soldiers and Korean citizens work shoulder-to-shoulder to protect nature and the city they live in,” Dongducheon Mayor Oh Sea-chang said earlier this year.

There were also chances for brigade Soldiers to teach English at local schools.

Soldiers and KATUSAs – South Korean Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army – from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, taught classes to more than 80 seventh-graders at Saengyeon Middle School in Dongducheon.

“They are really excited about us being here,” said 1st Lt. Gary Davis, the battalion’s chaplain. “We see their faces light up when we walk down the halls.”

Teachers and administrators at the school appreciated the Soldiers’ efforts.

“I thank the Soldiers for teaching students and showing their kindness,” said Bae Mi-hwa, an English teacher at Saengyeon Middle School. “Most importantly, this gave some confidence to the students, and they really liked the teachers.”

Along the way the brigade’s Soldiers also got to take free trips in July to points of cultural and historic interest. They visited, among other places, the Demilitarized Zone that divides Korea; traveled to Seoul to tour the historic Changdeokgung Palace; and in Dongducheon, viewed the historical exhibits at the Freedom Protection Peace Museum.

“Cultural learning opportunities, events, and trips like these provide Ironhorse Soldiers and families knowledge about Korean traditions and norms,” said Capt. James Nance, the brigade’s civil affairs officer.

“Ultimately, being here in Korea we’ve contributed to something bigger than ourselves, ” s a i d DiGiambattista. “We’ve been part of the U.N. mission that deters North Korean aggression. We’ve made friendships with our South Korean army friends. And we’ve learned about new cultures and traveled to places that some of us only dream about.”

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