Capt. Dayna Rowden
SANDSTON, Va. – On the day following Valentine’s Day, Feb. 15, the hearts of over 300 families beat wildly in anticipation of the return of the Virginia National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation, which had served over a year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After redeploying in Fort Dix, N.J., following their mission in Iraq, the Soldiers arrived to a cheering a crowd of family, friends, and loved one at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston.
The 2/224 th entered active federal service on Oct. 18, 2005 and deployed to Fort Dix to prepare for its overseas deployment. The unit then deployed to Iraq in January 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Soldiers of the 2/224th flew over 18,000 flight hours supporting Marine Aircraft Group 16. As the only Army Aviation Unit supporting the Marine Corps in Iraq, the unit was recognized by U.S. Marine Corps Col. J.C. Kennedy as being “irreplaceable in theatre” and the “reason behind the success in the 1 st Marine Expeditionary Force’s Mission.”
Maj. Gen. Robert Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, ceremoniously removed the “Punisher” patch from his shoulder, symbolizing the unit’s safe return home.
Governor Timothy M. Kaine was present to express the gratitude of over 7.5 million Virginians for the dedication of the Soldiers and commended the unit for its exemplary service.
The anticipation reached a fever pitch as the families of the Soldiers waited in reverent silence as Sgt. Maj. Susan Bentley extolled the accomplishments of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation and proudly exclaimed, “Punishers Rock!”
Lt. Col. Robert McMillin ordered the Soldiers to, “Hug your families. Go Home, and put your feet up.” As soon as he dismissed his Soldiers, they excitedly followed those orders. After being separated for more than a year, they deserved it.