Fort Carson troops flew out Wednesday for a mission in Eastern Europe, but they're leaving the R-word behind.
More than 4,000 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were originally headed to seven nations from the Baltic to the Black Sea to deter Russian aggression. In a farewell speech at the post and in later remarks, the brigade's boss, Col. Christopher Norrie, carefully danced away from references to Vladimir Putin's nation and three years of rising tensions that led the Obama administration to send his brigade overseas.
When asked why he wasn't saying "Russia," Norrie responded without referencing the R-word.
"Our purpose while we are there is to deter any aggression," Norrie said.
It's a sign of changing American foreign policy as President-elect Donald Trump and his apparently softer views on Russia take hold this month. In recent speeches, American military leaders who were ready to lambaste Russia a few months ago have held their tongues. And at Fort Carson, where the 4th Infantry Division is running training exercises once explicitly aimed at taming Russia, the R-word is out of fashion.
But, even without the mention, the role Russia will play in the 3rd Brigade's future was clear at the unit's farewell rites.
"No one wants a conflict in this part of the world, and we're looking forward to our role in helping prevent it," Norrie told a crowd that packed Fort Carson's Reed Special Events Center.
The Pentagon began ramping up efforts in Eastern Europe after Russia's 2014 incursions into Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea.
One Pentagon website describes the ongoing show of force in the region: "The United States is demonstrating its continued commitment to collective security through a series of actions designed to reassure NATO allies and partners of America's dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine."
On Wednesday, the first 240 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade boarded planes heading for Germany, where they will meet the unit's tanks, artillery and armored troop carriers, which crossed the Atlantic aboard three ships.
From Germany, the equipment will be hauled to Poland by train where the brigade will congregate before its battalions head out for training exercises from Latvia to Bulgaria.
The brigade's troops have spent the past year in intense training for the mission and fought a mock war in California last fall as a graduation exercise.
It's a veteran unit that has served seven deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.
"A lot of the soldiers you see here today were in the Middle East a year ago," Norrie said.
They'll go to Europe for nine months amid an apparent sea change of American policy toward Russia.
The Obama administration in recent days has expelled Russian diplomats over that nation's alleged role in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 campaign. On Twitter, Trump on Tuesday cast doubt on Russia's involvement.
"The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case," Trump wrote. "Very strange!"
Trump has also expressed admiration for Putin on Twitter in recent days, calling the Russian leader "very smart."
That leaves the Army caught between two administrations, one with an aggressive stance toward Russia and one that's a wild card.
With Army leaders reluctant to tangle with existing or future White House policies, "Russia" has been dropped from their dialect.
But, even without using the R-word, Norrie said that the importance of his brigade's work is clear. It's Fort Carson's largest European deployment since the Cold War. This summer, the Fort Carson contingent will be joined by as many as 90,000 allied troops for the biggest NATO training exercise in generations.
Norrie said he has spent a lot of time telling his troops about the burden they will shoulder.
No matter who is in the White House, the colonel is confident his soldiers can bear the weight.
"I believe we have the greatest brigade in the Army," he said.