Aug. 15, 2011

116th BCT Soldiers pin combat patch during ceremony in Afghanistan

By Frank O'Brien     
116th BCT Public Affairs

ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan “There are less than 2,000 Soldiers who wear the 29th Infantry Division symbol as a combat patch,” said Col. Blake C. Ortner, commander, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Aug. 6 at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan, to the 100 Soldiers of the 116th BCT, as part of an award ceremony recognizing their deployment to a combat zone.

 

Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas H. Yancey affixes a 29th Infantry Division combat patch to Spec. Favon A. Dameron's right shoulder during a ceremony at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan August 6. The 116th BCT is deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Photo by Sgt. Frank O'Brien, 116th BCT Public Affairs)

Soldiers of the 116th BCT now take their place in history -- adding their honors and accomplishments to the legacy of the unit’s glory that stretches back as far as the Revolutionary War, Civil War and the shores of Omaha Beach during World War II.

“None is more recognized than the 29th patch,” Ortner continued. “Wear it proudly.”

Soldiers are authorized to wear a shoulder sleeve insignia for wartime service on their right arm (their ‘sword arm’) to symbolize their deployment in a combat zone. The patch is based on the unit in which they served. Although the 116th BCT reports to the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, the 116th IBCT is on an International Security Assistance Force mission and as such is still considered a part of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division.┬áThe 29th patch, awarded August 6, is a modified yin-yang symbol in muted green and black for the new theater-specific MultiCam uniforms.

During the ceremony, each Soldier was congratulated by a member of the brigade leadership, had the 29th Infantry Division patch applied to their right arm, shook hands and then exchanged salutes.

For Spc. Brehann Hudgins, 23, of Newport News, Va., in her fourth year with the Virginia Army National Guard, it is her first deployment and first combat patch ceremony.

 

Maj. Benjamin J. Sprouse, brigade chaplain, looks down the row of 116th Brigade Combat Team Soldiers prior to the combat patch ceremony at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan August 6. The 116th BCT is deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Photo by Sgt. Frank O'Brien, 116th BCT Public Affairs)

“At first I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but once they put it on, I felt different; important,” said Hudgins. “What the colonel was saying about history...understand that now.”

Sgt. Tamekia Studivant, 28 of Petersburg, Va., who works with Hudgins as a 25B Information Systems Operator-Analyst, echoed the sentiment. “I understand what she’s feeling,” said Studivant about the upsurge of emotions, “You feel like you’ve accomplished something. It’s an overwhelming feeling to be part of something big, something larger than yourself.”

The theme of being part of history was echoed by Spc. Stephen V. Smith, 19, an American History major from Norfolk State University, who just 10 years ago was pretending to be a Star Wars clone trooper in mock fire fights with his friends.

"Before, I was studying history," said Smith, "Now I’m a part of it; a part of what you think of when you think of D-Day or World War II. I feel like I’ve done something. I joined. Now I’m part of a unit that has a lot of history.

“My mom’s pretty excited too,” Smith added.

The role of parents and spouses in supporting deployed Soldiers is a vital part of the National Guard’s recruiting and retention strategy as the war in Afghanistan stretches into its 10th year. Despite high unemployment in the U.S., the National Guard has placed an emphasis on retaining existing junior Soldiers like Hudgins, Smith and Studivant, rather than the ‘high-bonus’ recruiting efforts that were common at the beginning of the war. An emphasis on honor, heritage and ceremony is one of the ways that the Guard strives to retain the support of Soldiers and families weary of multiple deployments.

 

Col. Blake C. Ortner, brigade commander, 116th Brigade Combat Team, affixes a 29th Infantry Division combat patch to Master Sgt. Jacqueline R. Slater'sright shoulder during a ceremony at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan August 6. The 116th BCT is deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I’m one of three children who are now veterans,” said Spc. Aaron M. Capek, 20, of Richmond, Va., referencing his sister and brother, Eric, who went to Iraq. Eric Capek served as part of the 116th BCT in 2007 alongside a then Spc. Deon Loucks. Today it is a Sgt. Loucks who works daily beside the younger Capek brother.

“I’m pretty excited,” said Spc. Capek. “The ceremony was inspiring...I have also had the chance to do a personal security detail, something my brother never did.”

The patch awarded today was the 29th Infantry Division insignia: a half-blue, half-gray Chinese yin yang symbol. The blue and grey colors represent the Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War. The yin-yang design shows both sides uniting to form the 29th Division in peace.

The Soldiers of the 116th BCT began federal active duty May 16 with less than 60 days advance mobilization notice and trained for two months at Camp Shelby, Miss., before heading overseas. The unit is scheduled to remain in Afghanistan until spring 2012 as a command and control headquarters for counter-insurgency operations.

Although the headquarters of the 116th BCT is in Staunton, Va., the unit is composed of Soldiers drawn from every region of Virginia, urban and rural. Roughly 200 Soldiers are currently deployed to Afghanistan for the mission.

The 116th IBCT Headquarters last mobilized for active federal duty in Iraq from June 2007 to February 2008 where it served as the Joint Area Support Group in downtown Baghdad. The headquarters also tracked operations for two subordinate battalions and two separate companies assigned to the 116th operating elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait.

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