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Commander of Fort Drum’s 1st Brigade Combat Team discusses career, upcoming deployment

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FORT DRUM — As he prepares to lead the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team into Afghanistan early next year, the role of Col. Stephen L.A. Michael could be seen as closing a circle in his Army career.

Shortly after being commissioned into the Army following graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, in 1988, Col. Michael was a rifle platoon leader on post in the division’s 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment. Later, as the battalion’s logistics officer, he deployed to Somalia as a part of Operation Restore Hope. He also served in Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Iraq, Ghana, Nigeria and Israel.

“I’ve taken everything I’ve learned at Drum, I’ve taken that everywhere else and I think that’s what’s caused me to be successful, and ultimately come back to be here,” he said.

Col. Michael assumed command of the brigade in summer 2011, a role he said he would have “never dreamed of” when he started his career.

Though this will be the first time in Afghanistan, Col. Michael said his experience will help him in the new deployment.

“What I’ve learned is being able to work different points with different people, and being able to see and frame problems from somebody else’s perspective. ... In many respects it’s got me ready for Afghanistan,” he said.

The brigade’s deployment was announced by the Department of Defense on Nov. 30. About half the brigade will head to Afghanistan early next year as a security force assistance brigade, supporting Afghan military and police in a role mirroring the 2nd Brigade, which will deploy in a similar time frame. The 1st Brigade last deployed from March 2010 to March 2011.

Col. Michael said the new mission required a change of mindset, but said he’s stressed to soldiers the importance of their mission in helping develop Afghan forces to lead in their security. Though his soldiers will serve in an advisory role, Col. Michael said, the bottom line is that in many ways they will still be in combat.

“The enemy is not going to make a distinction,” he said. “He’s not going to say, ‘We’re not going to target these guys because they’re advising, and we’ll target these guys because they’re the ones that are out fighting.’”

Soldiers from the brigade, currently on block leave, will begin heading out for the deployment in January.

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