Storied Army unit moving into Afghanistan's east

By Robert Burns

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 20 2012 12:20 a.m. MDT

"We had to wrap our heads around a different country, a different people," said Lt. Col. Patrick Proctor, the division's chief of plans. As part of that effort, key officers on the division headquarters staff visited Afghanistan in September, October and December to be briefed by U.S. and Afghan officers and get a better lay of the land. Proctor and Mayville made a final visit last week.

Adapting will be less difficult for Mayville, a 1982 graduate of West Point who parachuted into northern Iraq in March 2003 as commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and has spent a total of more than four years in combat since then. He has served three times in Afghanistan, most recently in 2009-10 as operations chief for Gen. Stanley McChrystal when he was the top commander there.

In his sector of Afghanistan, known as Regional Command-East, Mayville will lead five U.S. ground combat brigades, plus one Polish brigade, one French brigade and one U.S. Army combat aviation brigade. In all he'll command about 30,000 troops, although it is possible he will lose some during the course of the year. Details of the 2012 U.S. drawdown plan have not yet been announced.

As required by President Barack Obama, the total U.S. force in Afghanistan of 90,000 troops is to be reduced to 68,000 by the end of the summer. Much of that will be achieved by reductions in Helmand province, where U.S. Marines already are handing over to Afghan forces and where the Taliban has been dealt a severe blow. It's not clear what changes will be made to the size and mix of forces in the east.

The 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed the "Big Red One," dates to World War I and has fought in every major American war since.

Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robertburnsAP

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