As the final convoy of the Army's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., entered Kuwait early Thursday, a different Stryker brigade remained in Iraq.
Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division are deployed in Iraq as members of an Advise and Assist Brigade, the Army's designation for brigades selected to conduct security force assistance.
So while the "last full U.S. combat brigade" have left Iraq, just under 50,000 soldiers from specially trained heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades will stay, as well as two combat aviation brigades.
Compared with the 49,000 soldiers in Iraq, there are close to 67,000 in Afghanistan and another 9,700 in Kuwait, according to the latest Army chart on global commitments dated Aug. 17. Under an agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
There are seven Advise and Assist Brigades in Iraq, as well as two additional National Guard infantry brigades "for security," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Craig Ratcliff.
Last year, the Army decided that rather than devote permanent force structure to the growing security force assistance mission, it would modify and augment existing brigades.
The Army has three different standard brigade combat teams: infantry, Stryker and heavy. To build an Advise and Assist Brigade, the Army selects one of these three and puts it through special training before deploying.
The Army selected brigade combat teams as the unit upon which to build advisory brigades partly because they would be able to retain their inherent capability to conduct offensive and defensive operations, according to the Army's security force assistance field manual, which came out in May 2009. This way, the brigade can shift the bulk of its operational focus from security force assistance to combat operations if necessary.
To prepare for their mission in Iraq, heavy, infantry and Stryker brigades receive specialized training that can include city management courses, civil affairs training and border patrol classes.
As far as equipment goes, the brigades either brought their gear with them or used equipment left behind that is typical to their type of brigade, said Ratcliff.
The first Advise and Assist Brigade - the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division from Fort Bliss, Texas - deployed last spring to Iraq, serving as a "proof of principle" for the advisory brigade concept.
Of the seven Advise and Assist Brigades still in Iraq, four are from the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The 1st Heavy Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Bliss, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo., are also serving as Advise and Assist Brigades.
The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division is based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. A combat medic from that unit was killed Aug. 15 when his Stryker combat vehicle was hit with grenades, according to press reports.
Two combat aviation brigades also remain in Iraq, according to Dan O'Boyle, Redstone Arsenal spokesman. Three more are deployed in Afghanistan, where there are currently no Advise and Assist Brigades.