The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, known as “Sledgehammer”, was deactivated on April 15, 2016, yet the legacy of the unit’s actions in combat, reputation for excellence and unique character remain an incredible source of pride for the 3rd ID Soldiers, current and former.
The 3rd BCT, 3rd ID is a historic unit with roots dating back to 1917 when the 3rd ID was originally activated. Ahead of the 6th anniversary of the Brigade’s deactivation, I would like to reflect on the characteristics that made the Sledgehammer unique and exemplary within the 3rd ID and the US Army.
Exemplary leadership and a strong sense of family make 3rd BCT such a special organization despite being located so far from the rest of the division at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
“Sledgehammer Brigade was special because of three key factors. Because we were the brigade apart from the division at Fort Benning, we were really a family, we had our own quarters area at Kelley Hill, and it was just a really great group of people,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division and Ford Stewart. Costanza was the brigade commander of the 3rd BCT from 2013 to 2015.
“We had great community relationships with Columbus and it was like our wider family. While Fort Benning was largely a [Training and Doctrine Command] Post and we were not part of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, they also supported us and treated us like we were part of the family.”
“After all, the moto we all know, ‘Not Fancy, Just Tough’ was that brigade. You could throw anything at that brigade and they could achieve it, and I think that’s because of the incredible leadership they had there,” Costanza said.
Costanza also believed that from the company-level leaders down to the battalion, they were an incredible group, many of whom continue to contribute to the army and leader development to this day.
Effective leadership is a fundamental cornerstone of any effective organization. A large number of young leaders in the 3rd BCT progressed in their army careers, becoming general officers, colonels, supreme commanders and other senior leaders. Sledgehammer veterans have stated that their experiences in the unit were essential in developing them into the leaders they have become.
Examples Costanza cites are Command Sgt Maj. LaVares J. Jackson of the US Army Armor School and Command Sgt.Maj. Darien D. Lawshea of the US Army Signal School were both first sergeants in the 3rd BCT. Other executives still serving on the 3rd ID staff who are Sledgehammer alumni include Sgt. Maj. John J. Kirkpatrick, the non-commissioned officer in charge of division plans, Sgt. Maj. Marion C. Wilson, chief of culinary management , and Col. Alexis (Pancho) Perez-Cruz, the chief operations officer.
The division’s veteran crew leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Quentin Fenderson was also among the executives who recognize Kelley Hill as one of the most influential assignments of her career.
“I just learned selflessness in this unit. That shaped my career a lot,” he said.
A source of unit pride and cohesion may have arisen from a rivalry between the 3rd BCT and the rest of the subordinate units in the division. Sledgehammer was based at Fort Benning while the other 3rd ID Brigades were stationed at Fort Stewart and was informally regarded by some as the division’s ‘black sheep’.
According to Kirkpatrick, “Black Sheep was a really important concept: it put a really big fight on everyone’s shoulders. Sledgehammer Soldiers would not accept mediocrity or complacency. The unit endeavored to prove itself consistently and outperform the other 3rd ID Brigades.
Fenderson recalled that it was Sledgehammer’s separate deployment that spurred a pursuit of excellence with greater intensity than in the assembled divisional units. The feeling that Sledgehammer Soldiers were separate and special inspired a higher standard discipline.
Pride in an organization can also be evident from a symbol that distinguishes an organization from its competitors. For Sledgehammer, soldiers wore a green Marne patch instead of the tan Marne patch worn by the other 3rd ID units during initial deployments in the Global War on Terror. This subtle departure in iconography from the division’s status quo allowed 3rd BCT soldiers to be quickly identified while deployed forward.
Esprit de corps, forged through rigorous, realistic training and later proven on the battlefield, was another reputed trademark of Sledgehammer. The brigade’s tactical procedures were constantly being refined, based on lessons learned while fighting an ever-evolving insurgency. Sledgehammer’s close proximity to the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning also provided easy access to the latest counterinsurgency doctrine. Frequent operations in the most dangerous areas of the Global War on Terror prompted the BCT to constantly develop new strategies.
Perez-Cruz recalled the unique methods of Sledgehammer’s training doctrine as “effective because we focused on training ourselves effectively. The commando team did not require much effort from divisional headquarters. The BCT trained as a cohesive team, often alone.”
Recalling the easy and smooth planning of the BCT’s major training events, Perez-Cruz said, “We always trained while we fought, which allowed for a seamless transition to the real-world combat environment.”
Because the frequency of operations was high, there was little time to lose on Kelley Hill. Leaders and soldiers insist that the best training must be provided and implemented or lives will be lost.
As the only brigade-size Forces Command unit based at Fort Benning at the time, 3rd BCT was a highly coveted assignment with intense competition for leadership positions. Quality leaders and soldiers competed to stay, and as a result Sledgehammer had a very high retention rate.
While building an enduring reputation from humble roots as the division’s “black sheep,” the Sledgehammer Brigade held the distinction of being one of the most deployed BCTs in the global war on terror, only being surpassed after their inactivation. Along the way, the Brigade produced many notable senior leaders and cemented itself in the pages of history as a key factor in Iraq’s liberation and transition from a brutal dictatorship to a free republic.
Kelley Hill is now a shadow of its former self and the former Brigade buildings no longer display the Sledgehammer heraldry. In their wake, the brigade’s veterans leave a history of exemplary combat performance that is “not fancy, just tough”!