The Spartan Brigade, Keepers of the Arctic

“I believe that, in the future, whoever holds Alaska holds the world.” Those words were spoken by Gen. Billy Mitchell of WWII fame some time ago. Mitchell is generally known as the father of the United States Air Force. This video will give you a sense of how seriously the United States Army is taking those words to heart.

In 2004, the United States Army undertook a modernization program to deal with the evolving realities of global dangers. One of the results of that modernization was the formation of a new Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT). It would be capable of conducting the business of war in two very different and extreme environments, encompassing the Arctic and the Pacific theaters.

Photo: YouTube/Times Archives

The newest of these units is the only Arctic Airborne unit in the U.S. Army; it is the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division. This is the first airborne unit created since WWII and is the newest of the five Airborne units in the U.S. Army.

This new unit was consolidated from the 501st Infantry Regiment (Airborne) located at Ft. Richardson, Alaska, into the present brigade. It was officially constituted on July 14, 2005, and was christened with the name “Spartan Brigade.” Its motto is “Sparta Lives.”

Photo: YouTube/Times Archives

The Brigade is composed of two Infantry battalions, one cavalry squadron, a small artillery battalion, a support battalion, and a special troops battalion. Its first Brigade Commander was Col. Michael X. Garrett.

In this video, you will get a very clear sense of the conditions that the Spartan Brigade is trained to operate in as the U.S. Army’s only Arctic Combat Brigade unit. The visuals are really impressive, especially of the nighttime jump that is shown in it. The plane and the Spartan paratroopers are framed by a massive full moon.

Photo: YouTube/Times Archives

But you will see the cold conditions that they are training to operate in as well. As a Vietnam veteran who spent my time in the jungles and mountains of the I Corps area of South Vietnam, and as one who does not do well in the cold, seeing where these soldiers work, listening to the wind, hearing the crunch of the frozen snow beneath their feet and the all-white environment, I get the chills just looking at it.

I don’t know if Gen. Billy Mitchell’s prediction that whoever holds Alaska holds the world is right, and I certainly hope that it never has to be tested, but I’m glad that there is such a highly trained and skilled unit as the Spartan Brigade out of Joint Base Elmendorf/Richardson, Alaska, already in place and ready if the need comes.

Photo: YouTube/Times Archives

We all know the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae in ancient Greece. 300 Spartans held off the entire Persian Army at that narrow pass. None of them survived, but they damaged and defeated the mighty Persian conquerors so thoroughly that they gave up their efforts to conquer the Greeks and went back home. Those 300 warriors saved the Greek world and shaped history at that place. That name, the Spartan Brigade, has deep meaning to it. And the motto “Sparta Lives” is an indication that the heart and the determination and the warrior spirit are still being honored by these Spartan paratroopers.


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