April 22, 2010

Virginia Guard’s 276th Engineer Battalion holds Freedom Salute in Richmond

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Nearly 200 Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion gathered April 18 at the Richmond Marriott Hotel to conduct a Freedom Salute in honor of the unit’s service in Afghanistan from February to November 2009.

  276th Engineer Battalion Freedom Salute

Spc. Betsy Lawrie shakes hands with Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., at the Freedom Salute April 18 in Richmond while her husband Staff Sgt. Zachary Lawrie looks on. Both Soldiers deployed with the 276th Engineer Battalion. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Visit our Flickr page for more photos of the 276th Engineer Battalion Freedom Salute and for photos from the 276th Engineer Battalion's change of command ceremony.

“Because of your training, your leadership and most importantly, due to the commitment you showed during this yearlong deployment, you accomplished the mission, you set great standards for future units to follow,” said Maj. Gen. Robert. B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia. “This weekend is important for Soldiers and their families. Not only do we recognize the Soldiers for their service, but we recognize the families for the service they rendered to the commonwealth by keeping the home fires burning and allowing their Soldiers to do the job they are trained to do.”

During the deployment, the 276th provided command and control, logistics and maintenance support for three National Guard and an active Army engineer company. The battalion, also know as Task Force Pirate, conducted a variety of missions to include route clearance patrols, route security, route reconnaissance, combat logistics patrols, area clearance and recovery operations as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The battalion was awarded a Valorous Unit Award for its actions in combat, the second time the unit has earned the award. The unit also earned the VUA and a Meritorious Unit Commendation for its service in Iraq in 2004-2005, and it is the only Virginia Guard battalion to have two VUAs. It is the most decorated battalion in the Virginia Guard since the end of World War II.

“On behalf of Governor Bob McDonnell, thank you,” said Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker. “Thank you for your commitment to the nation and your commonwealth, to your family and friends and thank you for your service. We can’t be any prouder of our citizen Soldiers than we are today.

Both the Headquarters Support Company and Forward Support Company will receive the Combat Action Company Streamer for having more than 65% of their assigned personnel receive the Combat Action Badge. The battalion will also receive the Combat Action Battalion Streamer for more than 65% of the assigned personnel receiving their Combat Action Badge. The Combat Action Badge provides special recognition to Soldiers who personally engage the enemy or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations.

The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history, designed to publicly acknowledge Army Guard Soldiers and those who supported them during the President's call to duty for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The Freedom Salute recognized the Soldiers, their families, employers and organizations that contributed significantly to supporting the unit during its deployment.
As part of the Freedom Salute campaign, each Soldier received an American flag in a wood display case, a Defender of Freedom certificate as well as commemorative coins and medallions.

Approximately 85 of the battalion’s 200 Soldiers returned to Virginia Nov. 15, 2009 after serving in Afghanistan since February 2009, and the remaining Soldiers of the unit returned over a period of several weeks.

During the deployment, the 276th Engineer Battalion was comprised of two companies from Virginia: the Headquarters Support Company and Forward Support Company. Both Virginia companies were made up of Soldiers from all over the state, including Richmond/Petersburg, the Hampton Roads area and Northern Virginia. Approximately 20 Soldiers from Southwest Virginia deployed with the 276th Engineers.

While mobilized, route clearance platoons from the Task Force Pirate cleared more than 70,000 kilometers of roads while conducting more than 1,070 missions.  They were responsible for removing over 15,000 pounds of explosive hazards from Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the battalion also trained French soldiers and members of the Afghan National Army Corps on route clearance operations and provided support to the second-ever Afghan National Elections. Route clearance platoons provided safe routes for the transport of election officials, election security forces, election materials and completed ballots.

Three Virginia Guard Soldiers were wounded in action, but their injuries did not require medical evacuation outside of Afghanistan and they were returned to duty. No Virginia Guard Soldiers assigned to the unit were killed in action.

The battalion headquarters provided command and control, logistics and maintenance support for five engineer companies: the 951st Engineer Company (Sapper) from the Wisconsin National Guard, the 1431st Engineer Company (Sapper) from the Michigan National Guard, the 235th Engineer Company (Sapper) from the California National Guard, the 541st Engineer Company (Sapper), an active duty unit from Germany. The 41st Route Clearance Company from Fort Reilly, Kansas replaced the 541st Engineer Company in August 2009.

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