History of the US Army Berlin Brigade

July 15, 2008 at 3:24 am

Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade and U.S. Command Berlin wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of U.S. Army Europe with a BERLIN tab.

Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade and U.S. Command Berlin wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of U.S. Army Europe with a "BERLIN" tab.

BY Thomas L. Hendrix, U.S. Army Military History Institute
Provided courtesy of the Army Heritage and Education Center.

Fourteen years ago this week, its mission completed, the Berlin Brigade concluded 49 years of U.S. Army service in Berlin. Its last Commander, Colonel Jimmy C. Banks, cased the Brigade’s colors at McNair Barracks, Berlin, on July 12, 1994. The presence of both the President of the United States and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany highlighted the Brigade’s critical contributions during and following the Cold War. While its Cold War contributions are often-cited, the Brigade’s post-Cold War achievements and transformation have been largely overlooked.

Organized in 1961 from units located in Berlin, the Brigade included infantry, armor, field artillery, engineer, military police, and combat support units. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 its mission was to defend Berlin. German reunification in 1990 ended the Cold War and the Brigade’s Berlin-focused missions.

However, the absence of major conflict or threat did not mean U.S. forces in Europe or Berlin were not actively engaged. In fact, the Brigade’s operational tempo and the intensity of its training increased. It executed, for example, no less than five Brigade rotations to the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at Hohenfels from 1991 to 1993, even as its soldiers deployed far from Berlin to Africa, Turkey, and Macedonia. Much of the Brigade’s early CMTC training was based on legacy Cold War scenarios: defeat of attacking Warsaw Pact heavy forces.

Following his September 1992 assumption of command, Colonel Jimmy C. Banks, quickly shifted the Brigade’s training and operational focus to real-world missions facing the Army in Europe: contingency operations, forced entry, rapid deployment, humanitarian support, peace enforcement, and peacekeeping. Reduced in size and equipped with specially-equipped “Humvees” (HMMWVs), the Brigade headquarters became more mobile and deployable by air. An airborne command cell ensured command and operational functions for airborne missions. The Brigade secured planning authority for USAREUR’s airborne battalion and developed plans for real-world contingencies. In October 1993, the Brigade exercised demanding contingency, peacekeeping, and enforcement scenarios at CMTC that included the 3rd Battalion, 325th Infantry (Airborne Battalion Combat Team) based in Vicenza, Italy.

Successful short-notice deployments of Brigade military police to Kenya for Operation Provide Relief in 1992 and of Task Force Able Sentry to Macedonia under a United Nations mandate in 1993 validated Colonel Banks’ initiatives and demonstrated the flexibility and responsiveness that a forward-based force provides. The deployment of Task Force Able Sentry to Macedonia in July 1993, for example, was the first that placed U.S. soldiers under United Nations command. It included the in-stride addition of M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers to the Brigade even as deployment preparations were underway. The Brigade’s quiet professionalism resulted in the efficient and rapid deployment of the Task Force in a complex and volatile environment.

As a self-contained combined arms team of infantry, artillery, engineer, military police and combat support units with a deployable and flexible headquarters, well-trained, well-led, and successfully deployed, the Brigade’s organizational and operational transformation in the last years of its service heralded the later development of the Army’s highly successful Brigade Combat Teams.

Entry filed under: American Military History, Modern Military History. Tags: , , , .

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