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JBLM and the Strykers

A new century waits

Fourth Brigade Strykers practice techniques on Fort Lewis prior to deployment. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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From the horse-mounted soldiers of 100 years ago to the 450 horse-powered Strykers that characterize a significant portion of the post's mission today, the post has steadfastly served the country.

Strykers have met the challenges of a post-Cold War world with the development of a more flexible doctrine of war fighting that bridged the gap between heavy and light forces.  And that history began here.

Put differently, the Army underwent at JBLM a "transformation" from the Cold War traditional tactics of "force on force" to a newer "networked battlefield" characterized by near instantaneous sharing of intelligence while at the same time providing speed and lethality to anywhere in the battle space - or on the globe.

This started in 2001 when a handful of soldiers tumbled from the rear of a Canadian LAV III (light armor vehicle) and moved quickly toward one of the old World War II-era buildings on then North Fort.

In a moment, they entered the buildings and begun room-clearing operations.

They were the prelude to the next chapter - the Stryker chapter - in JBLM's history.

The word on the Army command's lips in 2001 was "transformation," and then Fort Lewis soldiers were enthused to be engaged in a new type of training.

This change, comprised of combining technology with a more responsive, deployable and sustainable force, took the shape of the Stryker.

In May 2002, the first 14 of the Army's new Strykers were delivered to A Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

"This is a great day for the soldiers in the two brigades that form the tip of the Army Transformation spear," said Lt. Gen. James Hill, Fort Lewis and I Corps commander.

History was being made

"This new vehicle is all about the men and women who wear the Arrowhead or the Tropic Lighting patch on the left shoulder."

Built on the lines of the LAV III, the Stryker was then considered to be an interim vehicle until more advanced designs became available.

With a common chassis on which to build, the armored vehicle configured into a Mobile Gun System, plus eight infantry configurations to include a Mortar Carrier, Reconnaissance Vehicle, Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicle, Fire Support Vehicle, Engineer Support Vehicle, Command and Control Vehicle, Medical Evacuation Vehicle and the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle.

The Army has just taken delivery of the "Dragoon," the first Stryker outfitted with a 30mm cannon.

Training immediately commenced, and JBLM soldiers found themselves in constant training to become experts in using the Stryker to conduct combat operations.

First Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, became the first unit to fully field the Stryker.  Training was conducted at Ft. Lewis, the Yakima Training Center, and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin.  As more Strykers arrived, more soldiers were trained.

Learning to use the vehicle as a second home became second nature.  The benches in the initial version of the Stryker made for a hard but passable bed.

With the Global War on Terror ramping up, it was only a matter of time before the theory of Transformation would be put to the test first in Iraq and later in Afghanistan.

Between November 2003 and October 2004, the Army's first Stryker-equipped force received its baptism by fire in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The deployment of then Fort Lewis' 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division to Mosul, Iraq validated the equipment, training, technology, doctrines and transformation of the Army's fighting forces.

Innovations like slat armor to protect from rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attacks and fire suppression systems became common practice.

History's wars are hard teachers

"We literally wrote the book," said 1st Lt. Nicholas Kardonsky upon his return from Iraq in 2004, "on how to use the vehicle in combat."

Along the way, all Stryker soldiers earned the nickname "Ghost Soldiers" due to the relative speed, stealth and strength of the Stryker.

Then Col. Robert Brown, commander, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, said in a 2005 Washington Post article that the Strykers saved the lives of at least 100 soldiers.

Speed in covering large areas of a city of two million people like Mosul was expected.  But speed was also measured in other ways.

"We can take an engine, the air conditioning system and the transmission out and replace them all in less than an hour," said Sgt. Erik Stark, 296th Brigade Support Battalion, as he worked on a Stryker in Baghdad in 2006.

After 3rd Brigade's initial deployment to Iraq in 2003, the military base, named after Capt. Meriwether Lewis and its Strykers, continued to serve in the Global War on Terror.

In October 2004, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, deployed to Mosul, Iraq.

In the late spring of 2006, 3rd Brigade deployed for the second time to Iraq and retuned in September 2007.  

In May 2007, the newly flagged 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, deployed to Iraq as part of the "surge."  This marked the first time the Mobile Gun System was used.

By far, 2009 was the busiest for JBLM Stryker Brigades.

Third Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq for a third time; 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq; and 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

And last, 4th Brigade deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.

The combat tours the JBLM Stryker brigades engaged in, solidified the Stryker's reputation as a fast, agile and lethal system by which soldiers could quickly and effectively engage an enemy.

The Strykers and the soldiers who served on them validated the theory of Transformation and positioned Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Army to face the pivotal challenges of the future.

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