FORT RILEY — In the coming months, the 1st Infantry Division will roll up its "Big Red One" flag and plant it in Iraq for a year, the scene of a fight that's slowly becoming America's other war.
It's far from the war that many officers and soldiers of the division fought just a few years back. But none of them have a problem with that new reality.
As the 1st Infantry Division's commanding general and his staff prepare for their upcoming turn in Iraq, the nation's focus has shifted to what was once considered "the other war" being fought in Afghanistan.
"It's a different environment that we're going into," Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks said this week. "It's easy to lose focus on the work to be done when it's not the primary focus. Afghanistan is the primary focus."
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President Obama is considering recommendations from Gen. Stanley McChrystal to change the strategy in Afghanistan, including a request to increase troop levels from between 10,000 to 60,000. At the same time, the U.S. continues to wind down Iraq operations, eyeing a nearly complete withdrawal of combat forces by the end of 2011.
Brooks will lead about 850 soldiers who will provide command and control over coalition forces from a base in Basra in southern Iraq, an area that comprises nine provinces. U.S. forces will remain in an advise-and-assist role as Iraq holds national elections and takes steps closer to full transition of security to its forces.
Afghanistan is not unlike the situation the 1st Infantry's 4th Brigade found in Iraq in 2007, when it was part of Gen. David Petraeus' surge.
"When 4th Brigade deployed, we were in a crisis situation in Iraq," Brooks said.
Much has changed militarily and politically in Iraq since then. The brigade is back in Iraq in more subdued role with the general reminding his troops to have an open mind and "whatever your last experience in Iraq was is just your last experience in Iraq."
"We're always training for uncertainty," he said.
Col. Richard Piscal, the division's chief of staff, added: "Less kinetic is a good thing."
The division headquarters was busy as soldiers and officers neared the end of a mission readiness exercise.
It is the division's final test before it deploys, encompassing three months of activities compressed into eight days. Many got by on four hours of sleep and were back to work, much like schedules they will soon keep.