- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

FORT KNOX, Ky. (AP) - The end of the historic “Duke Brigade” came Wednesday amid cannon-fired salutes, orders barked across the parade grounds at Fort Knox and expressions of gratitude to soldiers past and present who fought in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division in the Army.

The stand down of the brigade is the latest for a unit that traces parts of its history back to the 1770s and the foundations of the U.S. Army. Despite being inactivated two other times, the brigade served in every U.S. war except Korea since World War I.

Maj. Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said the Army has been called to “right size” itself, resulting in cutbacks aimed at bringing the number of soldiers down to about 490,000 by 2015 and an inactivation of 10 Brigade Combat Teams. The “Duke Brigade” is the fifth one inactivated this fiscal year, including the original “Band of Brothers” unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

In addition to the combat team cuts, the Army will reorganize most of its remaining combat teams by adding a third maneuver battalion to its armored and infantry brigades.

Even deeper manpower cuts to the Army are expected after 2015; projections call for the Army to drop more than 400,000 soldiers.

“The Army is shrinking. The Army is waning,” Funk said. “But, this ceremony is a testament to the strength of the United States Army.”

The pomp and pageantry, which included soldiers on horseback replicating an infantry charge, also marked the latest change at Fort Knox, a place mainly known for its federal gold depository.

In the last five years, Fort Knox became the Human Resources Command for the Army and the U.S. Army Cadet Command. Those moves mean nearly 3,000 fewer soldiers at the post, but a more administrative place for the iconic post bordering the towns of Radcliff and Elizabethtown. Along with the loss of the “Duke Brigade,” which arrived at Fort Knox in 2009 from Fort Hood, Texas, the military moved the U.S. Army Armor School to Fort Benning, Georgia in 2012.

Col. William Ostlund, commander of the 3rd Brigade, said the cities and the military installation have worked well together.

“This is the most awesome community I’ve been involved in,” Ostlund said.

And, the soldiers who went into combat with the brigade and understand its history, the loss of the unit is tough to come to grips with.

“It’s a shame to see it go away,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Powers. “It was an honor to serve in this brigade.”

For business owners, the loss of the 3rd Brigade and the changes at Fort Knox are less an emotional issue than a financial one. Ron Higdon, who owns General Lee’s, a tattoo parlor just a few hundred yards from the front gates of the post, said the changes mean fewer soldiers heading into his shop.

“Cutting back at this base is hurting us,” said Higdon, a 45-year veteran tattoo artist who wears a chest-length white beard. “It’s pretty pitiful that we won’t have many soldiers left around here.”


Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

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