The war in Afghanistan may be coming to a close, but the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division is calling on his soldiers to stay focused as they prepare to deploy.
"There is still a mission in Afghanistan," said Maj. Gen. Mike Murray. "The mission is not to get equipment and people out of theater. That has to happen to meet the presidential guidance. It's maintaining the right mindset for my staff, in balancing the requirements of the [Train, Advise and Assist Commands] and the advisers and the Security Force Assistance Brigades."
About 200 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters will deploy to Afghanistan in November, officials announced Oct. 28. The deployment will include a supporting element in Qatar and a liaison in Kuwait.
The division will case its colors Nov. 20.
The soldiers from Fort Stewart, Georgia, are expected to be deployed for 12 months. They will be part of the 9,800 U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan after NATO's International Security Assistance Force mission ends Dec. 31.
Resolute Support — the mission replacing the Operation Enduring Freedom — will begin Jan. 1, as U.S. and NATO forces transition from a combat role to a train, advise and assist mission.
Once in Afghanistan, Murray will lead Combined Joint Task Force-3 and serve as the deputy commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Amanda Azubuike, a spokeswoman for the 3rd Infantry Division.
As the U.S. and NATO mission winds down in Afghanistan, many headquarters and functions are being consolidated, which means Murray will absorb some of the duties carried out by Regional Command-East as well as those of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Azubuike said. This includes managing equipment retrograde and personnel redeployment.
Also in Afghanistan are about 60 other soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division who arrived in country in October. Those soldiers, led by Brig. Gen. Christopher Bentley, the division's deputy commanding general for support, are deployed to succeed the 10th Mountain Division at Regional Command-East, which is transitioning into Train, Advise and Assist Command-East.
The division headquarters is preparing for a "non-traditional" mission, Murray told Army Times during a Nov. 3 interview.
"The traditional mission rehearsal exercise just didn't fit the mold," he said.
Instead, key members of his staff have done anywhere from one to three trips to Afghanistan for "over-the-shoulder training" with the people they will be replacing in theater, Murray said.
The soldiers at Fort Stewart also have been conducting video conferences with U.S. Forces Afghanistan staff as well as 10th Mountain Division staff, he said.
Once in theater, Murray and his team will be responsible for logistical support for U.S. troops across Afghanistan, including medical, sustainment, signal, fuel and "all the day-to-day stuff," he said.
They also will be responsible for the physical security at Bagram Air Field, as well as supporting U.S. advisers at the Train, Advise and Assist Commands.
The headquarters also will be tasked with assisting with the drawdown.
"There are a lot of soldiers and a lot of equipment that have to be accounted for and gotten out of theater," Murray said.
As the headquarters element prepares to deploy, about 98 percent of the division will remain stateside, said Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, the deputy commanding general for maneuver.
"The training, readiness and modernization program will continue," said Blackburn, who will be the senior officer at home while Murray is deployed.
The division will stay busy, particularly with the Army's regionally aligned forces initiative, Blackburn said.
Beginning in the spring, soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team will be aligned for the next two years with European Command, he said.
The division's 4th BCT is preparing for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and plans call for it to then be aligned with Africa Command, Blackburn said.
The brigade also will reflag to become 2nd BCT; the division's 2nd BCT will be inactivated in January as part of the Army's ongoing reorganization and draw down.
At the same time, the division's 3rd BCT is transforming from an armored brigade to an infantry brigade, Blackburn said.
"They are currently aligned with [Northern Command] as an emergency response force and theater security cooperation force in Canada and Mexico," he said.
The demand for the 3rd Infantry Division and its troops is reflected across the Army, Murray said.
"I challenge you to look for a division that's not committed or going to be committed very, very soon," he said, adding that divisions have the capability to deal with "large, complex problems on the ground."
As for Afghanistan, Murray said he and his soldiers will work to build on the progress and sacrifices that have been made.
It's important "that we carry this through," he said. "That the Afghan government and Afghan security forces, in terms of sustaining long-term security for the Afghan people, they are in the position to do this in the long term. It's about cementing those gains. It's about cementing those sacrifices."