Soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Brigade, U.S. Army Alaska, change out their shoulder insignia for the USARAK insignia during a ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson May 15. This is the fourth time the 2nd Engineer Brigade has inactivated since World War II. The brigade is inactivating as part of downsizing to restructure into a leaner, more adaptable fighting force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
U.S. Army Alaska's 2d Engineer Brigade, recognized by the unique seahorse shoulder patch, inactivated for the third time since its constitution 73 years ago during a ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Pershing Field May 15.
The Arctic Trailblazers have served in Alaska since September 2011 when the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade reflagged to become 2d Engineer Brigade. The 3rd MEB had activated two years prior, at a time when the Army was still expanding to meet the demands of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both brigades afforded necessary mission command to a wide range of force-multiplier modular units with capabilities including chemical, finance, explosive ordnance disposal, engineer, military police and logistics. The largest difference between the organizations was 2d Engineer Brigade being equipped with a technical headquarters section staffed with engineers. This provided the brigade expertise necessary to manage construction and technical engineer planning and project management.
With the Army downsizing to meet fiscal requirements set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, 2d Engineer Brigade was identified in 2013 to inactivate by the end of fiscal year 2015. As the brigade was preparing in 2014 for inactivation the Army added further levels of complexity by slotting the brigade headquarters for a deployment to Afghanistan while also moving the inactivation date sooner by two months.
"Despite the fact that the operational deployments started to pick up in 2013, the Army upped the stakes by accelerating the inactivation timeline," said Col. Pete Andrysiak, commander of 2d Engineer Brigade, during the inactivation ceremony. "The bulk of the work would fall dead center of the (brigade) headquarters' deployment to Afghanistan. You can't make this stuff up."
Andrysiak also highlighted the brigade's accomplishments and responsibilities during deployment where they served as the International Security Assistance Force's final theater engineer brigade. These included training and advising the Afghan army's only national engineer brigade and synchronizing the deconstruction mission of bases across the nation resulting in 61 of 86 bases closing or transferring to the Afghans.
"Like all other units we also had to redeploy and retrograde all of the equipment left in Afghanistan over the years," Andrysiak said.
Maj. Gen. Mike Shields, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, also spoke during the ceremony. His closing remarks were focused on the legacy of 2d Engineer Brigade and giving direction to the brigade's Soldiers.
"Anywhere the nation needs effective forces, it calls on those who serve in the Last Frontier. We are a special breed of Soldiers and our adversaries know it," Shields said. "That will carry on for all of you as you transition into the brigade engineer battalions here and at Fort Wainwright or other units across the Army. Take pride in being an Arctic Trailblazer with you wherever you may go next."
The ceremony was attended by two special guests. Jack Reed, who is 91 years old, served in 2d Engineer Brigade, known then as 2d Engineer Amphibian Brigade, during World War II. He was accompanied by Edwin Leard III whose grandfather, Edwin Leard, also served with the brigade and was killed in New Guinea.
The 2d Engineer Brigade's final remaining battalion, the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, stood in formation and changed their left shoulder sleeve patches identifying their parent unit during the ceremony.
The battalion command team, Lt. Col. John Gaivin and Command Sgt. Maj. Pamela Brown, first removed each others' 2d Engineer Brigade seahorse patches and replaced them with U.S. Army Alaska's polar bear patch before proceeding to do the same for the rest of their Soldiers.