Some 4,000 soldiers gathered with family and friends on Friday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as they prepared to deploy to southern Afghanistan.

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Some 4,000 soldiers gathered on a parade ground here Friday to mark their upcoming deployment to southern Afghanistan — a pivotal period when overall U.S. troop strength will be on the decline.

“We acknowledge that no human endeavor is free of mistakes, and that war is perhaps the most fraught of all human endeavors,” Col. Barry Huggins, commander of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division told the soldiers and hundreds of family members who attended the event.

“We have an obligation to ensure that our soldiers conduct themselves first and foremost as representatives of America. … When we return I pledge that we will return with honor,” Huggins said.

The brigade will be based in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, whose fighters now fuel the insurgency. The area was a focal point of a surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan several years ago.

More of the security responsibility is now being transferred to Afghan National Army troops.

American forces there have had a rocky few months. In February, the mistaken burning of Qurans and other Islamic texts at Bagram Air Field triggered widespread protests. The deadly riots that followed included the deaths of six U.S. troops who were shot by Afghan security forces or militants disguised in their uniforms, according to The Associated Press.

Then on March 11, Afghan civilians were killed in what Army officials allege was premeditated murder by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Huggins, in an interview, said that in recent weeks in Kandahar province, Afghan security forces have been stepping up to help U.S. troops deal with the increased tensions, and performed well.

Unlike some other areas, Huggins said, there have not been incidents there of Afghan troops turning on U.S. troops.

Most of the brigade is expected to depart within the next month in a series of flights that will take them to Kandahar Air Field. From there many will fan out to other areas of the province.

At nine months, this deployment will be three months shorter than what had been the standard Army tour of duty in war zones.

The change is part of a broader Army effort to reduce the amount of time that soldiers must spend in war zones.

But the shorter tour of duty will come without a two-week break that soldiers previously received, which allowed many to return home to family and friends.

Among the family members who turned out Friday was Melanie McBride, who says she married Spc. Cameron McBride earlier this year.

The couple are expecting a first child in October. She’s hoping he can come home on an emergency leave around the time of the baby’s due date.

“Otherwise, it’s going to be rough,” she said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or