Inside the Gates: A ceremonial goodbye to Alaska's 4/25 Airborne Brigade
The 4/25 Airborne Brigade Combat Team held a ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Friday, marking the beginning of deployment for more than 2,000 Alaska soldiers. They’ll spend the next nine months in Afghanistan.
The ceremony features soldiers from each deploying unit standing in formation with their ceremonial flags raised. They furl the flags and cover them in cases until they reach the war zone.
"Each one will unfurl their colors and that officially marks that the brigade is in theater, ready to assume their mission,” said 4/25 commander, Col. Jason Jones.
It's part of the Army's pageantry but is also an important moment for the soldiers and their families.
“It's a little bit emotional for them because now they truly understand that this is it-- we are getting ready to go,” said Jones. "The families are just now realizing, 'I'm about to say goodbye for nine months, maybe more-- if we're called upon.' They're saying goodbye to their loved ones.”
"Deployments, in many ways, are really hardest on the families, who are back home, who worry, have sleepless nights,” said Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, who spoke at the ceremony.
Friday’s ceremony is also a turning point for the 4/25, which was almost cut by the Army as it downsized.
“That was really tough,” said Sullivan. “Think about this unit, a year ago, they're getting ready to get disbanded, and now, they're deploying."
The soldiers are deploying to a 16-year war, the goal of which hasn't changed, according to Sullivan.
“The end game remains the same, and it's a really important one we can't lose sight of-- to make sure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorist organizations that can bring harm and death and destruction to the homeland of the United States,” he said.
The soldiers of the 4/25 will be focusing on counter terrorism, along with advising and assisting the Afghan Security Forces.
'It is still a very dangerous, high-risk area with many insurgents that are not only there to destabilize the Afghan country but, obviously, are there to kill or harm the United States forces that are there to support the Afghan Security Forces,” said Jones.
Still, he says the soldiers and their families are ready to take on this mission.
"I know that the city of Anchorage supports the paratroopers of the Spartan Brigade 110 percent, and I know, undoubtedly, they're going to be there for us if we need them,” said Jones.
Governor Bill Walker, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Representative Dan Saddler and former Alaska Senator Mark Begich also attended Friday's ceremony.