Monday, July 1, 2013

Will the Army retire the "Band of Brothers"?

The wars are winding down and the budget is shrinking. The United States Army, as it has done after every period of conflict, will go through a cycle of downsizing. The goal this time around is to reduce active army forces by about 80,000 soldiers. This move will be accomplished in the deactivation of 12 combat brigades. One of those on the chopping block is the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Part of this BCT is the first and second battalions of the 506th Infantry Regiment (1/506 and 2/506), therefore making this brigade the modern manifestation of the "Band of Brothers."

As expected, there is a collective howl coming from those veterans and others with an affinity toward the lineage of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. To their credit, The Huffington Post published a well done article on this, explaining that the 506th PIR of WWII fame earned that moniker of "Band of Brothers" for the title of the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO miniseries of the same name. I can't do better than the Huff article for explaining the situation and what it means to keep storied units like this in an active status. The article also has a nice summary history of the 506th Infantry from its birth during WWII, through Vietnam and their recent participation in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I will say that from the beginning of this blog a recurring theme I write about is the importance of a military unit's history to the esprit of its soldiers and veterans.

Unfortunately I've come to the conclusion that the Department of the Army just doesn't get it. When the Army went from organizing by regiment to divisions, that was okay from a lineage standpoint because soldiers have always taken pride in the shoulder patch of their parent unit and regiments were the building
blocks of the Army that could move from one division to another. However when the Army began to create brigade combat teams that would deploy separately, without their division headquarters like some kind of "plug and play" component, the shoulder sleeve insignia lost a lot of its meaning. The Army's plan was to provide the battalions within these BCTs a regimental affiliation so that the soldiers would have an anchor of unit history and tradition, that - with a few exceptions like the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Armored Cavalry Regiments - really had nothing to do with the BCT or the division the battalion was assigned to. And now that disregard for lineage, tradition, and unit history has come full circle because apparently decisions on which brigades to deactivate are being made with a total disregard for the regimental affiliations of the battalions within that brigade.

Why bother with unit crests or shoulder sleeve insignia at all? Maybe soldiers could just wear bar codes?

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