FAIRBANKS - The last of more than 3,800 Fort Wainwright soldiers left Tuesday for final training in Louisiana before an assignment in Iraq.
The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team has converged on Fort Polk, La., for its final major training. Fort Wainwright spokeswoman Linda Douglass said 107 soldiers boarded a C-130 at Eielson Air Force Base at about 11:45 a.m. for the flight to Louisiana.
The brigade's 290 Stryker vehicles and 980 other vehicles were transported to Fort Polk earlier this year.
Fort Polk is home to the Joint Readiness Training Center, a training area that attempts to closely replicate conditions soldiers will encounter in Iraq.
The brigade will train for a month in a regime that will officially certify it as a Stryker brigade.
Units will hone their combat skill using live ammunition against a simulated enemy, the Army said. They will conduct combat operations against a live enemy using simulated ammunition. The brigade is one of the largest troop units to train at the center.
The 172nd has spent the last 16 months converting from a separate infantry brigade to a modular Stryker brigade combat team, the third of six such planned teams.
After certification, the team will return to Fort Wainwright. Then, nearly all the soldiers will take leave until deployment.
Accompanying the Stryker team to Fort Polk is an Air Force unit, the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron. It's assigned to Eielson Air Force Base but stationed at Fort Wainwright.
On Thursday in a ceremony at Fort Polk, the Air Support Squadron will receive five specially equipped Stryker vehicles that have enhanced communications systems to allow the soldiers to coordinate ground and air forces activities.
"Their job, in a nutshell, is to act as a liaison to ground and air forces," said Master Sgt. Andrew Gates.
The squadron, which will travel with the Stryker brigade on the ground in Iraq, is able to communicate with any Air Force aircraft. Gates said communications will allow the squadron to communicate with air support to better identify friendly and enemy forces on the ground, coordinate surveillance and reconnaissance and other air support for the Stryker brigade.
"This is kind of a landmark thing," Gates said. "This is the first Air Force unit to get a Stryker vehicle."
Gates said the squadron consists of about 50 soldiers but may grow to as many as 130.
After training, the Stryker Brigade vehicles will be shipped to Iraq. Soldiers are to begin their tour in the fall.
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