The 3rd Infantry Division’s return to the Korean peninsula took a ceremonial step forward Tuesday afternoon at Marne Gardens on Fort Stewart.
There, soldiers of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team furled the unit colors in preparation for the brigade’s nine-month "rotational deployment" to South Korea.
Though some have linked the deployment to recent tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, the rotation was scheduled in 2015 and the brigade is the fifth such unit to deploy to South Korea in three years.
But the presence of any ABCT remains a clear sign the U.S. means business, 1st Brigade Commander Col. Mike Adams said at Tuesday’s "colors casing" ceremony.
"As one of 10 active duty armored brigade combat teams, we bring a level of firepower and lethality that is unmatched in the world today," Adams said. "I just put it this way. When the United States of America sends a paratrooper unit somewhere globally, that demonstrates the resolve of American interests to all regional actors — friendly, neutral and potential adversary. When America sends one of its armored brigade combat teams, the message is unmistakable: ‘Don’t try me.’"
Some 4,000 soldiers from the 1st ABCT, known as the Raider Brigade, will go to South Korea and will be stationed in various locations around the peninsula, according to Maj. Pete Bogart, the brigade’s public affairs officer.
They’re heading to "one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world and the commercial and cultural hub of Northeast Asia," Adams said.
Once there, the brigade’s soldiers will use tanks and other equipment left in place by the unit they’re replacing.
Bogart said the 1st ABCT will support both the 2nd Infantry Division – whose motto is "fight tonight," – and soldiers from the Republic of Korea Army.
The brigade’s deployment to South Korea, already underway, marks the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953 that the 3rd ID has been on Korean soil, officials said Tuesday.
Among them was Gen. Sean Bernabe, the commander of Task Force Marne. He challenged soldiers to live up to the division’s legacy in the Korean War, one which included 13 Medal of Honor winners, but also asked them to get to know the people in Korea and embrace the culture they find there "in the land of the morning calm."
Sgt. Kelvin Couvercier, an armored crewman with 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, and Pfc. Zachary Hensley, an intelligence analyst with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, said they’re excited about that aspect of the deployment.
"I’m really looking forward to seeing the culture and experience something besides the United States," said Hensley, who is from Tennessee.
Couvercier, who is married and has an 8-month old son, has a previous rotation in Korea under his belt. He said his family understands this is part of being a soldier.
"I’ve left them prepared," the 25-year-old from Deltona, Florida, said. "They’re sad, but we’ve talked about it."
Hensley, meanwhile, seemed somewhat bemused by the fuss, at least as far as he’s concerned.
"It’s nothing special, really, for me. For the 3rd Infantry Division as a whole, it’s pretty special," he said. "It’s the first time the division has been back to Korea in 63 years. But we’ve all known about it for a good while now, and we’re just kind of going through the cycle and getting ready to go. But yes sir, I’m definitely ready to get going."
Most of the ABCT should be in South Korea by March, according to officials.