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Dramatic transformation - Champaign part of new Army unit ready for today’s challenges

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KEITH THOMPSON
Special to the Ellis County Press
FORT LEWIS, WA. - In the early 20th Century soldiers faced a transformation. Gone were the hordes of cavalry on horseback charging with drawn sabers. In their place came rumbling tanks rolling with metal tracks, steel armor and immense firepower.

A century later, the son of two area residents is going through changes even more dramatic.

Army Pfc. Steven M. Champaign, son of Steve Champaign of Ferris, and Niki Champaign of Garland, is a member of a completely new type of unit designed to meet the challenges of the post Cold War world.

In response to conflicts such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Haiti, the new unit, called the Initial Brigade Combat Team, is being assembled as a lighter, more mobile and fast deploying force.

The first unit to undergo the change is the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division here where Champaign is an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

'I'm a squad-designated marksman in an infantry rifle squad,' explained Champaign, a 1999 graduate of Grapevine High School.

The ultimate goal of the transformation is to have a medium force able to deploy with the speed of current light infantry forces, but arrive on the scene with more of the combat power of tank forces.

To do this, the brigade has exchanged its 70-ton Abrams tanks for smaller, wheeled LAV III light armored vehicles that can drive down narrow city streets and over small bridges. The brigade, deployable by plane to anywhere in the world in 96 hours, has also been beefed up with increased intelligence gathering capabilities including unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Army isn't getting rid of its heavy armor or light infantry, but creating a completely new style of unit with the latest in modern technology and weapons systems to handle the missions not suited to more traditional fighting forces, such as peacekeeping and humanitarian relief.

Champaign is helping to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures for his brigade that will become the model for future brigades.

'This brigade is a transitional phase that may change the Army as we know it,' said Champaign.

Since the transformation began last year, Champaign has become an integral player, helping the brigade deactivate units, create new ones and prepare for a scheduled initial operating capability by December 2001.

The retooling of a more than 3,000 soldier strong fighting force has been a learning experience for Champaign and his colleagues in the 3rd Brigade.

'During this transformation I've learned to embrace change,' Champaign said. 'I've also learned that transformation does take time.'

Although Champaign is a pioneer in the Army's trek into the 21st Century, he's following in the footsteps of soldiers past who've embraced change to keep America's Army on top.

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