FAIRBANKS - Nearly 4,000 Alaska-based soldiers are heading to Iraq beginning next summer, Army officials said.
The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team has known about an upcoming deployment for some time, but couldn't discuss it until the Department of Defense announced Tuesday it would be one of six large units going to Iraq, said Maj. Kirk Gohlke.
The force will be part of the rotation that requires a force strength in Iraq of 17 brigades and three division headquarters, according to the Department of Defense.
The brigade hasn't received its orders and so far does not know what its mission or exact destination will be, said Col. Mike Shields, who has commanded the 172nd since July. Until orders arrive, the brigade will continue its aggressive timeline of training as it transforms into the third Stryker brigade in the Army and becomes ready to deploy, he said.
The Stryker brigades were designed to bridge the gap between the heavier military of the Cold War and the Army's 30-year goal of producing a faster, more lethal force. They also aim for more sustainability during a deployment than light infantry and more mobility than heavy forces.
The 172nd's two predecessors - the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and 1st Battalion, 25th Infantry - both out of Fort Lewis, Wash., have seen combat time already.
Shields has had regular contact with the two units and is gleaning tactics and procedures to implement into training, as well as when making the move from Alaska to Iraq.
"We're leaning toward (Operation Iraqi Freedom)," Shields said. "Our training prepares us for combat operations at any theater of war."
That includes teaching soldiers a new way of fighting that incorporates weapons such as the eight-wheeled Stryker vehicle. It also attempts to win battles by negotiation and cultural awareness, Shields said.
The brigade this spring should have all of its equipment, including almost 300 Stryker vehicles and three unmanned aerial vehicles. It will take its knowledge, equipment and training to Fort Polk, La., where it will put it all together for a maneuver before the brigade receives its final certification and becomes ready to deploy.
Most of the equipment will be shipped overseas from Louisiana, but soldiers will return to Alaska for roughly two months. Shields said they'll continue smaller unit training and take turns at leave time before the long deployment.
The brigade has three infantry units - the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Infantry, 1st Infantry Regiment at Fort Wainwright and the 4th Infantry, 23rd Infantry Regiment at Fort Richardson.
Other battalions include the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment responsible for the reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition and 4th Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment, both at Fort Wainwright.