FORT STEWART, Ga. — On Wednesday evening, Club Stewart proved a chaotic town hall setting for the Army’s top NCO, whose visits to units are usually highly choreographed affairs. Uncertainty filled the air.
The room was packed with family members and children from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, which rapidly deployed to Europe earlier this month in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. There were more attendees than seats, with dozens standing along the back wall.
A dull uproar filled the room as children crawled around and played in the aisles, forcing Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston to watch his step as he circulated the room fielding questions from the family members left behind.
Family members — none of whom Army Times is specifically identifying due to town hall ground rules — voiced their anxieties, frustrations and even anger over the armored brigade’s second overseas mission in as many years. The brigade returned from a nine-month rotation to South Korea in August 2021.
They’ll be deployed for at least six months, Grinston said, unless the situation in Ukraine radically deescalates.
Many asked why the brigade had to go when other units hadn’t deployed recently.
Grinston, who was joined by 3rd ID’s Command Sgt. Maj. Quentin Fenderson, said it was because the other units at the south Georgia post are in their modernization periods and receiving new equipment — and also because the active duty Army only has so many tank brigades.
“We’ve got three [ABCTs in] Europe,” Grinston said, explaining that if the increased posture in Europe becomes a long-term requirement, the Army will need to manage a rotation of at least nine armor brigades. That could mean a major increase in operational tempo for the Regular Army’s 11 ABCTs, as the service also has maintained a rotational tank brigade in South Korea since 2015.
It’s still not clear whether any of the National Guard’s five armor brigades would be able to join the European surge and relieve the current units — Grinston indicated that Army planners are determining if and under what authorities part-time troops could participate.
Other family members raised concerns over pay and entitlements for the brigade.
According to Grinston, senior Army officials are still working to determine what entitlements they can legally provide the soldiers, because their no-notice, deterrence-focused deployment is unlike a scheduled Europe rotation such as Atlantic Resolve.
“We’re in that gray zone,” he said in response to one question, adding in response to another that “we’re really working hard [to determine] what this [deployment] actually is.”
U.S. European Command officials are considering a plan that could increase the troops’ paychecks by structuring the mission as a routine temporary duty assignment. They’re also looking at implementing hardship pay for soldiers who stay past 270 days.
Some attendees raised worries about being able to afford plane tickets for paternity leave periods, as well as when soldiers poised to leave the Army or change duty stations will be able to come home.
Fenderson, the division’s top NCO, said that 3rd ID is working with Army planners to establish a policy on how long before a soldier’s ETS or PCS date they can be returned. Grinston attributed the confusion to the lack of clarity on the troops’ status, and emphasized that the service was working to create policies to alleviate the issues.
Grinston was able to fix at least one problem on the spot, though.
One soldier’s wife complained that his platoon hadn’t received their local ration cards, which are required to buy tobacco in Germany, where the brigade is currently located.
“We’ll get on that today,” he said.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.