History of 81st Brigade Combat Team


The federal mission of the 81st Armor Brigade (Separate) is to mobilize and deploy to a theater of operations to conduct combat operations, redeploy, and demobilize. Its state mission is to be prepared for employment in the protection of life and property, and the preservation of peace, order, and public safety, and/or disaster relief operations as required. The 81st Armor Brigade (Separate), Washington Army National Guard, came into existence (as "straight-leg" infantry) on 1 January 1968 under the command of Brigadier General Albert Kaye. But its origins go back to World War I. In the process of mobilizing for overseas deployment in 1917, the Army determined that it needed large maneuver formations - divisions. Divisions were formed from existing small units; the 41st Division comprised National Guard elements from eight western states including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The combat regiments in each division were collected into one artillery and two infantry brigades. The 41st was one of the earliest divisions to embark for Europe - in December, 1917 - but once there, it was tabbed to train and process replacements to fill out the rosters of other arriving divisions. Additionally, it was tasked as a depot division. While many of its soldiers were reassigned to the front, and its artillery brigade saw action and occupation duty, neither of its infantry brigades saw combat action.

Postwar reconstitution retained the division in the Pacific Northwest and assigned the 81st Brigade, commanding the 161st (Washington) and 163rd (Montana) Infantry Regiments, to Washington. The headquarters circulated around the state to the city of the Brigade commander, moving six times in twelve years. Not until 1936 was a headquarters company activated. Between the wars, the brigade gained the distinction of procuring, and then recommending for general Army adoption, a unit communications system fabricated by the Spokane Radio Company.  1937 divisional maneuvers preceded the September, 1940 activation for World War II. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the division converted from a "square" (4-regiment) to "triangular" (3-regiment) configuration, losing its 161st Infantry Regiment to the 25th Division. At this point, the component brigades were deleted in favor of the more flexible Regimental Combat Team approach. It took the demise of the 41st Division to resuscitate the 81st Brigade. In the mid-60s, the Defense Department, under Secretary Robert McNamara, moved seriously toward abolishing the National Guard altogether. As part of the process, the 41st was disbanded. But McNamara's band of system analysts was thwarted - in part by politics, in part by Vietnam. For many Guard units which had belonged to multi-state divisions, this change meant activation of separate brigades. The 81st in Washington and 41st (not 82nd) in Oregon, picked up the heritage of their respective elements. At this point, the 161st Infantry, which had been restored to the Division upon postwar reactivation in the 1940s, again became the core fighting element of the 81st.

In 1971, a reorganization converted the brigade into mechanized infantry, deleted the 161st's Second Battalion, and added the 303rd Armor. As the latest DOD concept of Total Force completed the repudiation of McNamara's failed plan, an "affiliation program" began that linked the units of the brigade (for training) to sister units of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis. At least one Army officer recalls the partnership between a battalion from the 9th and (future State Adjutant General) Lieutenant Colonel Keith Eggan's 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry at annual training in 1973 as the very first attempt to implement the concept. When the 9th became a "high-tech test bed" in the mid-1980s, the affiliation switched to the 4th Infantry Division. Later, the 81st became an asset of I Corps (at Fort Lewis), then assigned as an organic ("round out") brigade to its old partner the 9th Division. While in that status, it gave up its striking Raven insignia for the division patch. When the 9th Division inactivated, a casualty of the post-Cold War force reduction, the 81st again became a separate brigade, now with a dedicated wartime mission to augment ("roundup") the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea. The 81st normally conducts annual training at Yakima Training Center in Eastern Washington except in 1980 when the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and the subsequent ash-fallout forced training to be moved to Fort Lewis. The Governor has called-up the 81st to State Active Duty on several occasions to protect lives and property from natural disasters; in December, 1975 the 81st fought flood waters during the Snohomish River valley flood, in May, 1980 the eruption of Mt. St. Helens required Guard support, in November, 1990 the "Thanksgiving Day Floods" caused the Governor to declare 19 counties as federal disaster areas, and most recently from late July to early September, 1994 massive forest fires in Eastern Washington. At the height of "Firestorm '94" 2,300 81st personnel were fighting fires and providing support for local, state and federal agencies.

The 3,600-member 81st, one of the nation's 15 National Guard "enhanced readiness" or E-brigades, was federalized in November 2003 to enter the rotation for service in Iraq. Most of its troops, about 2,000, trained at and were sent from the US Army National Training Center in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, CA. Many of the 81st's armored troops have been retrained on a steep learning curve as infantry. Prior to the departure, the brigade conducted extensive convoy operation training at Fort Lewis, the National Training Center, and Camp New York, Kuwait. Soldiers in Kuwait underwent live fire exercises that allowed them the opportunity to engage known threat targets from a moving vehicle. Training also emphasized the establishment of 360° security after dealing with hypothetical attacks or break-downs. Once the vehicles were stopped, drivers and passengers dove from their seats into the sand to provide firing coverage on all sides. Other training exercises focused on rehearsals for self-recovery of broken-down vehicles and the evacuation of casualties. 81st Brigade Combat Team soldiers set out from Kuwait equipped with tow chains, well-stocked first aid kits, and detailed plans for any type of recovery or evacuation.

As a result of their detailed preparations, the soldiers were able to handle slight mechanical break-downs that arose during the convoy north. Some vehicles that required towing were transferred to other locations for maintenance assessments while others were attached to wreckers or larger trucks and towed for the remainder of the trip north. The Military Police (MP) Platoon joined forces with other MPs to pave the way for the rest of the brigade. They controlled traffic at intersections, scanned for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and provided security at check points. The MPs also ensured that the convoy stayed on its planned course. The convoy left Kuwait well-trained and ready for anything they might encounter along the way. Various elements of the 81st Brigade Combat Team were divided into multiple serials that comprised the three day journey. The first leg of the journey began at noon and lasted only a few hours. Soldiers moved to a location near the Kuwait-Iraq border where they were able to relax and brace themselves for the move into Iraq. The highlight of the first night was the food stands provided inside the camp. Hungry soldiers spent their evening waiting in the snaking lines for their pizzas and double tall mochas. Day Two began shortly after midnight, as sleepy soldiers packed up their cots and departed on the next stretch of the trip. Although energy levels were high, many soldiers struggled to stay awake and alert during the early hours of the convoy. Once the sun rose, however, soldiers were treated to a large and varied expanse of countryside, a welcome change from the seemingly endless stretches of sand they had encountered in Kuwait. As the convoy moved north, the Iraqi population gave the 81st BCT soldiers a warm reception. Along the dusty, unimproved roads in the south, people clad in the traditional flowing robes turned away from their herds of sheep and camel to wave as the serials passed. Children gestured requests for water and food and shouted greetings to the soldiers. Most of the 4,500 members of the 81st arrived in Iraq in April 2004, as fighting flared in Baghdad, Fallujah and other areas.

The 81st Brigade Combat Team (Brigade Combat Team) accepted authority for the defense of Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad from the 1st BCT of the 82nd Airborne Division during a Transfer of Authority ceremony at LSA Anaconda 18 April 2004. With numerous guests and personnel watching the ceremony, BG Oscar Hilman, 81st Brigade Combat Team Commander, accepted the job of security from COL Patrick Donahue II, Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade. This was the first time the 81st Brigade had served as a combat element in theater since World War II. Their movement to Iraq represented the largest deployment of the Washington State National Guard, with assigned units from California and Minnesota, since that war. During the deployment, the 81st Brigade's units were stationed across multiple locations in and around the Baghdad area as well as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry was stationed in the Green Zone, while the 1st Battalion, 303rd Armor, was at Camp Victory South; the 181st Support Battalion was at LSA Anaconda; the 216th Air Defense Artillery at Baghdad IAP; Troop E, 303rd Cavalry at Camp Doha, Kuwait; another Armor Battalion dispersed across three sites south of Baghdad; 2-146th Field Artillery Battalion in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the 898th Engineer Battalion dispersed across multiple sites.

The 81st Brigade was alerted for a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008. It received its mobilization order on 19 March 2008 from the Department of Defense. The brigade completed pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, WI and then deployed to Iraq from August 2008 to August 2009.The main focus of the brigade in OIF was security and "force protection operations." The brigade was led into Iraq by Colonel Ronald Kapral and State Command Sergeant Major Robert Sweeney. During their time in Iraq, the brigade was visited by Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire and Washington Adjutant General, Brigadier General Toney. It suffered one fatality during its deployment, Specialist Samuel D. Stone, in a vehicle accident while on patrol. Troop A, 1st Squadron, 303rd Cavalry Regiment received the Distinguished Service Unit award. The award was received on behalf of the unit by Captain Patrick Gehring and First Sergeant Travis Wise.

In July 2015 the 81st Brigade was selected by the Department of Defense announced its plan to convert the Washington National Guard’s 81st Armored Brigade Combat Team, which currently operates M1A1 Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, into a Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

81st Brigade Combat Team Shoulder Insignia

Description:  On a white square with rounded corners, 2 1/4 inches overall, the Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes (Haida, Kwakiutl and Nootka) symbol of the raven, in black, red and white within a 1/8 inch red border.

Symbolism: The Raven represents the fact that all the units of this Brigade derive their history and background as Washington State units.  The family crest of George Washington, a raven on a gold coronet, has been traditionally used to form the crest of Washington State Unit's insignia.

The raven design is a combination of three Northwest Indian tribe designs of the raven.  The head portion is from the Haida tribe.  The lower portion are from the Kwakiutl.  The beak, eyes and mouth are from the Nootka.  Most emphasis has been placed on the Nootka as they lived on the Washington coast and Olympic peninsula.  Both of the other tribes represented live, for the most part, on the lower British Columbia coast and in the vicinity of Vancouver Island.

The raven is one of the most unique types of design and is found only in the Pacific Northwest.  The raven is considered to be of particularly good power in the legends of the Northwest Indian tribes.

According to legends, this bird went into the supernatural work while the earth was still in darkness and the people could not see. The raven took the sun and escaped through a hole in the roof of the house of the "Supernatural" while they slept.  Because the raven had to fly through the smoke to get out of the house, it discolored him black. While flying back to earth, with the super naturals in chase, the parts of the sun are broken off, forming the stars with the last and largest piece forming the moon.  The raven then threw the sun into the sky where it gave off light and heat back to the earth.  The raven saved the people from their darkness and gave them light and new life.

The use of the rectangles and squares is based on the extensive use of such shapes in tribal designs and carvings.  Corners were usually round to tie the rectangle into the total design

The insignia was designed by Private First Class Michael L. Burns of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 81st Brigade and was first officially approved for wear on 27 May 1970.