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End of an era: Iron Brigade to deactivate in Korea

After almost 50 years in South Korea, the Army is deactivating the 2nd Infantry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, officials announced Thursday.

Iron Brigade, which has its headquarters at Camp Hovey, South Korea, will be replaced by a rotational brigade combat team from the United States, according to information from 8th Army.

The 1st BCT is the latest brigade to be deactivated as part of the Army's ongoing drawdown and reorganization.

Seven BCTs, including two in Europe, have been cut in the last two years, with five others slated to go in fiscal year 2015.

These cuts will leave the active Army with 32 BCTs to match an end-strength of 490,000 by the end of fiscal 2015. Additional cuts could be made if the Army's end-strength shrinks further because of tightening budgets.

The 1st BCT has had its headquarters in South Korea since July 1965, training and working alongside its South Korean partners, according to 8th Army. Soldiers who fill the brigade's ranks are deployed to Korea on individual tours.

The unit was awarded the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation three times for its contributions to the national security and defense of the country, according to 8th Army.

The brigade's inactivation is part of a broader Army plan to increase theater readiness and maneuver capabilities on the Korean peninsula and around the world, officials said.

The Army plans to start rotating a BCT into South Korea in late summer 2015.

The first brigade to go is 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, of Fort Hood, Texas. About 4,600 soldiers from the unit will deploy in June, the Defense Department announced Thursday.

The plan is to rotate one BCT at a time into South Korea "like we've done in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 13 years," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has said. "There'll always be a brigade in Korea, but they'll rotate from the United States."

The Army tested its rotational model with battalion-sized units, beginning last fall when 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, was sent there for a nine-month tour.

In February, the Army deployed 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment to Korea. The combined-arms battalion from Fort Hood deployed with M1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. They were replaced in October by about 800 soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, also from the 1st Cavalry Division.

Officials have said rotating whole units — instead of deploying soldiers on individual tours — will result in formations that are more ready and trained to higher levels.

These rotations mark a significant change in the way the Army has done business for years, and the practice would increase the readiness of units stationed in one of the most volatile parts of the world.

The Army has about 19,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea, including the 2nd Infantry Division headquarters.

Other major units include the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the 1st Signal Brigade, the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the 65th Medical Brigade, and Eighth Army.

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