Anchorage Daily News
January 7, 2008
Pg. 3 More than 1,100 of Fort Rich unit's soldiers re-upped in 2007.
By George Bryson
Fourteen months in Iraq took a definite toll on his troops, but something must have gone right, said Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which returned to Fort Richardson before Christmas.
Last year a higher percentage of his soldiers re-enlisted than did soldiers in any brigade in the Army, Garrett noted in a recent interview.
"We exceeded 200 percent of our re-enlistment goals, and that says a lot."
Actually, the brigade exceeded its re-enlistment target set by the Department of Defense by 267 percent last fiscal year, said Master Sgt. Douglas Goodwin, who leads the brigade's retention efforts, speaking in a second interview.
In all, 1,105 soldiers in the unit re-upped -- more than a third of about 3,000 noncommissioned soldiers in the brigade eligible for re-enlistment, Goodwin said.
Among the Army's 37 combat brigades, the re-enlistment effort by the 4th Brigade (25th Infantry Division) -- in sheer numbers -- was second only to a larger brigade based in Fort Lewis, Wash., Goodwin said. But in percentage terms, the 4th brigade was tops.
"We were the highest by far," he said.
One attraction may have been the Army's generous new bonus system -- with cash inducements to re-enlist ranging from $20,000 to $35,000 for medics and highly skilled infantry soldiers.
Re-enlistment bonuses paid last year to members of the 4th brigade alone exceeded $8.5 million, Goodwin said.
"Certainly the money is a factor," added Garrett, who is due to relinquish his command in June, as the brigade launches a brand new life-cycle.
"But ... if the guy or the gal did not like the unit -- the leadership ... the environment -- they would not make the choice to stick around."
His soldiers paid a high price while helping Iraqi Security Forces to patrol streets, search for roadside bombs and battle insurgents in dangerous combat zones south and west of Baghdad in 2006 and 2007.
During its 14-month deployment, the 4th Brigade lost 53 soldiers. An additional 345 soldiers were wounded.
Now Garrett is trying to determine how many more troops under his command suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, or might now be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We won't know until March or April the real impact of post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries," he said. "Certainly there are a number of folks who have shown the indicators of both of those." Colonel: war hard on marriage
Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Fort Richardson, shared the following thoughts in a recent interview:
On evaluating his troops for mental stress:
"What the Army has found over time -- there will be hundreds of folks who will need to be seen by our mental health professionals. What's most important is the next screening that's scheduled for March. That will be a pretty big deal. That will be every single person in the brigade. I have a friend of mine who is a therapist and she's seeing lots of (4th brigade) Spartans. ... They're calling her, making appointments through the military health care system. ... And that's good. I think that's healthy.
On families struggling with divorce:
"My sense is that, yes, (deployments) are tough. And yes some marriages fail. ... A lot of it, too, is you have young people making, I think, simply poor decisions and some of those marriages not working out.
"I can't tell you how many paratroopers we had get married two days before they deployed. Or how many paratroopers got married during their mid-tour leaves. And I will tell you that a lot of those (marriages) didn't work out."
On how soon the brigade might return to Iraq:
"Anything is possible in this day and age. The Army guarantees units 12 months of 'dwell time' (home between deployments). What a year of dwell time doesn't give you in all cases is the opportunity to train everybody and to send people to the schools they need to go to -- the noncommissioned officer course ... jump-master school ... ranger school."
On what he'll do after relinquishing his command in June:
"We'll find out in the March-April time-frame exactly where we're goin. g... (I) may go to the war college. ... I was selected (to attend the college) three or four years ago, and just haven't been able to go because I've been in command."
On his own plans during the brigade's January block leave:
"I've got a list of winter things that you can only do in Alaska. ... (and) I'm just hanging out with my family.
"I've got what you'd call one of those high-energy households ... a 13-year-old daughter who is a big swimmer ... an 11-year-old son who is a big hockey player ... a wife who works part time (as a nurse) over at Elmendorf. So for me it's kind of interesting just watching all this ... watching my wife work this very challenging schedule."