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As US pulls out of Afghanistan, Fort Carson prepares troops for changing warfare

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Uncertainty is the norm for Fort Carson soldiers, their boss, Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera said.

The general, fresh home from Afghanistan, said dealing with uncertainty will mean lots of rigorous training to prepare for a world that could be as difficult as anything soldiers have seen in 13 years of war.

"There is no peace dividend at Fort Carson," LaCamera, who commands the post and its 4th Infantry Division, said in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette (http://tinyurl.com/kebod62).

Preparing for peace is a major shift for LaCamera and his soldiers. The general was among the first American combat troops into Afghanistan in 2001. In the years since, he and Fort Carson's nearly 25,000 other troops have been commuting to war, with all-too-brief stops at home between fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Now, as the war in Afghanistan winds down and the last Fort Carson combat troops head home this fall, LaCamera is preparing his soldiers for whatever will come next. The only certainty, he said, is that it will be different from what soldiers have experienced.

"If you go in fighting yesterday's fight you are swinging behind the pitch," LaCamera said.

The general and hundreds of other Fort Carson soldiers have recently come home from the final stages of yesterday's fight.

The division headquarters helped lead the drawdown of American forces in southern Afghanistan and put the final touches on training Afghan troops there. LaCamera said the Afghans in his sector showed a willingness to go toe-to-toe with their Taliban foes and took the lead in regional security.

"They like to fight, they were willing to fight," he said.

The key to getting the Afghans to that point has been skillful work by American and allied troops to craft an Afghan military, he said.

In Kandahar, LaCamera said Fort Carson soldiers embraced their Afghan counterparts.

PHOTO: In this March 14, 2013 photo, from left, Maj. Gen.  Paul LaCamera, major general Joseph Anderson, Col Bruce Antonia and Lt. General Robert Brown take to horseback for their Inspection of Troops during a Change of Command ceremony at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. Preparing for peace is a major shift for LaCamera and his soldiers. The general was among the first American combat troops into Afghanistan in 2001. In the years since, he and Fort Carson's nearly 25,000 other troops have been commuting to war, with all-too-brief stops at home between fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis) MAGS OUT
In this March 14, 2013 photo, from left, Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, major general Joseph Anderson, Col Bruce Antonia and Lt. General Robert Brown take to horseback for their Inspection of Troops during a Change of Command ceremony at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. Preparing for peace is a major shift for LaCamera and his soldiers. The general was among the first American combat troops into Afghanistan in 2001. In the years since, he and Fort Carson's nearly 25,000 other troops have been commuting to war, with all-too-brief stops at home between fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. (AP Photo/The Colorado Springs Gazette, Mark Reis) MAGS OUT

"Their losses were our losses," he said. "Ownership is a pretty powerful thing."

Now, LaCamera is drilling his division staff and his combat brigades to be prepared for the next fight with a series of training exercises that will run for the next few weeks.

While the strategies of Afghanistan and Iraq might not apply in the future, the attributes of successful soldiers remain unchanged, he said.

"I think we prepare leaders who are bold and adaptive who are physically fit and who are ethically and morally sound," LaCamera said.

Fort Carson will get a new focus on its training as the Army rolls its plans for regionally aligned forces. That concept would see brigades and divisions prepare for battle with an emphasis on a specific region, like the Middle East, Pacific or Europe. Specifics haven't been finalized, but a decision is expected in the coming weeks.

For the division, it's a blast from the past. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the 4th Infantry Division spent its Carson time preparing for battle in Europe and joined in massive training exercises that saw soldiers fly from Colorado to Germany for mock combat.

LaCamera said maintaining the tempo — even with battle-hardened troops — is crucial. The aftermath of World War II showed that combat skills diminish quickly without tough, realistic training, he said.

"We went from being the most lethal force on Earth in 1945, and five years later the North Koreans went right through that," LaCamera said.

And if the Army needs future combat forces, the service will be quick to look to Fort Carson, which is home to three types of combat brigades.

The 4th Infantry Division has a light infantry brigade that's increasingly focused on helicopter assault, a brigade equipped with 8-wheeled Stryker vehicles and a heavy brigade that has 72-ton M-1 tanks and M-2 Bradley infantry carriers.

"We're the only balanced division in the Army," LaCamera said. "I think we provide options for decision makers."

On the future of Fort Carson, which could face deep cuts as the Army works to trim 70,000 soldiers from its ranks, LaCamera is optimistic. The Pentagon has seen the community's support for the post and knows its value, he said.

"I think Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon provide a very unique training opportunity to our Army," he said, referring to the post's 235,000-acre training area in southeastern Colorado.

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