KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, officially assumed responsibility and operations of Forward Operating Base Salerno, and the Khowst and Paktya Provinces from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., in a transfer of authority ceremony Dec. 31.
The ceremony was attended by several high-ranking U.S. officials and Afghan dignitaries.
The ceremony was marked by the traditional casing and uncasing of the ‘colors’ by soldiers from the Spartan and Duke Brigades.
The TOA marks the official start of Spartan’s mission in Afghanistan. It is also the start of the brigade's second deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the ceremony, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, Regional Command East and Combined Joint Task Force-1 commanding general, showed appreciation for the effort and commitment that Task Force Duke Brigade showed during its tour in Afghanistan.
“For the past year, the combined team of Afghan [National] Security Forces from 1st Brigade 203rd Corps and national and border police supported by Task Force Duke, served as an unshakable cornerstone along this historic and strategic stretch of Afghanistan’s eastern border,” Allyn said. "Task Force Duke exemplified total commitment to partnership, with both security force and local governance teams.”
“Today we welcome the men and women of Task Force Spartan,” Allyn said. “The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division hailing from Fort Richardson, Alaska.”
Allyn acknowledged Spartans’ advantage being from an arctic region.
“One thing is certain,” Allyn said. “The winter weather here won’t intimidate these hardened troopers. The weather today feels like Miami, Florida to the Spartans. In fact, the weather in Anchorage, Alaska is two degrees above zero.”
The outgoing 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. Commander, U.S. Army Col. Chris Toner, a native of Topeka, Kan., bid farewell to Afghanistan.
"Task Force Duke leaves Khowst and Paktya [provinces] with our heads held high, having given our very best,” Toner said. “Thank you my Afghan brothers for giving us the distinct opportunity to serve alongside you in such a worthy cause.”
“Lastly but foremost in our minds is a heartfelt thanks to the families and loved ones who [bore] the true burden of this deployment,” Toner said emotionally. “Day-in and day-out they have kept the home fires burning, they have taken care of each other, they have wrapped their arms around the families of our fallen and wounded, and they have stood their own watch as the greatest patriots, supporting us, while we’re deployed.”
U.S. Army Col. Morris Goins, Task Force Spartan commander, thanked the Duke Brigade for ‘rolling out the red carpet’.
“You’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly with us since our first [pre deployment site survey] trip here in April of this year,” Goins said. “The sharing of information and the professionalism you showed allowed this [relief in place] mission to be the easiest.”
Goins assured his Afghan counter-parts; the Spartan Brigade is willing to do what it takes to succeed in the mission and is able and willing partners.
“... we did not deploy to your country to sit idly by. We came here to do what the Spartans did at the Battle of Thermopylae,” Goins said. “We will make a difference. We as Spartans ... will conduct this campaign with you Shana-Ba-Shana or shoulder-to-shoulder in your country.”
Goins quoted an Irish prayer for the Duke Brigade as they head home.
“May the road rise up to meet you,” Goins said. “May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again my friend, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”