The Bayonet

Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013

Saying goodbye: 197th Infantry to case colors

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The long history of the 197th Infantry Brigade will come to a close Dec. 12 when the unit’s headquarters cases its colors during a ceremony at 3 p.m. at Doughboy Stadium.

The casing comes as part of the Maneuver Center of Excellence’s reorganization, and will help to align functional training and support for the Armor and Infantry Schools under one brigade.

The history of the 197th dates back to 1921, when the brigade was created in the Reserves as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 197th Infantry Brigade, assigned to the 99th Division, and organized at Pittsburgh, Penn.

It was first ordered into active military service in November 1942 and was reorganized at Camp van Dorn, Miss., as the 99th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, Mechanized. During this time, the unit participated in the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe campaigns during World War II.

After World War II, the brigade was inactivated in September 945 at Camp Myles Standish, Mass.

The current form of the 197th was created in August 1962 at Fort Benning, and went on to serve as a training unit preparing Soldiers to fight in Vietnam.

“The Army organized a lot of the training units that they had here during the ramp up for Vietnam and created the 197th Infantry Brigade,” said David Stieghan, Infantry historian. “They trained hundreds of thousands of troops at Fort Benning to serve in Vietnam and around the world during the Cold War.

“A lot of the cadre members and trainers were rotating back and forth to Vietnam, so there was a lot of combat experience within the unit. After Vietnam, they continued to prepare troops for the Cold War in two ways. One was to go to West Germany to hold out against the Warsaw Pact. The other was to go to the new training centers. ... This was their mission. They had to develop a lot of the master gunner courses. This was essentially the group responsible for instructing and training troops and conducting Infantry warfighting missions.”

The brigade continued to operate in that capacity until August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Despite its training focus, the 197th was called upon to reorganize as a combat unit.

“At that time, there was a rule that every division have two brigades of active duty and a third National Guard brigade,” Stieghan said. “With the speed of this rotation … and seeing that the National Guard would not be prepared fast enough, the Army started looking for units they could plug in. Some independent brigades in Germany and other places were unplugged from their spot and sent to link up … in Saudi Arabia. One of those that was missing a brigade was the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart in Savannah.

“We were running low on brigades, so someone had the idea to activate the 197th Infantry, not realizing that they were not organized as a combat unit. They were organized as a training unit. Every company and battalion had a different role in training troops here, but they made it happen. They turned themselves almost overnight into companies and platoons and squads. They reorganized and used their trainer leaders as cadre and swept their lower enlisted into that as well. They issued them equipment from here and other sources and got them there in time to fight as a combat brigade.”

The 197th was the only brigade to fight with the 24th Infantry Division and participate in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm during this time.

After being inactivated in August 1991, the brigade remained dormant until it was transferred to TRADOC in November 2006 and its headquarters reactivated here in July 2007.

At the time, the training units here were transitioning to a brigade focus, Stieghan said, and four dormant units were requested to be reorganized here.

“One of them had to be the 197th because of its long connection to the training mission here at Fort Benning and the number of troops that it had trained,” he said.

Since its reactivation, the brigade has taught combat skills and supported MCoE training, the Infantry School and Infantry Soldiers and leaders.

Lt. Col. Joseph Pierce, the brigade’s commander, said the brigade’s casing of the colors will be a bittersweet moment.

“It’s been hard to watch these guys go, but what we’ve tried to do is seek the opportunities for growth,” he said. “As we split up, I challenged our guys to share their lessons learned from years of operations and figure out areas where we could get better. As we combined organizations, I think we can take the best of two organizations and create an even greater organization. I’ve been a part of a lot of great organizations, but the professionalism and the training capabilities and the selfless service that I’ve seen everyday from the Soldiers, NCOs and civilians is unparalleled in the Army.”

The brigade’s colors will be cased during a ceremony at 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at Doughboy Stadium. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held at Patton Hall on Harmony Church.

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