February 27, 2008

Staunton area Va. Guard Soldiers return from Iraq

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Sgt. Christina Phillips, a human resources specialist from Staunton, waits with her daughter Jasmine for the start of the formal welcome home ceremony for Headquarters, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. 
The unit returned home to Staunton after serving eight months in Iraq. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

STAUNTON, Va. — Approximately 150 Soldiers assigned to the Headquarters of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, based in Staunton, Va., returned home to Virginia Feb. 21 after serving in Iraq since June 2007. The returning Soldiers were greeted by hundreds of family members, friends and members of the Staunton community.

The plane carrying the Soldiers landed in Richmond around mid-day and traveled by bus with a state police escort to their formal welcome home ceremony at the Staunton armory. Members of the local chapter of the Patriot Riders provided escort along with the state police.

Kira Slosser, a student in Baltimore, Md., gives her brother Army Sgt. John Slosser a warm welcome home hug Feb. 21 in Staunton. The Headquarters, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team returned home after eight months serving in Iraq. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

During the unit’s brief welcome home ceremony Mayor Lacy King of the City of Staunton, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall all delivered messages of thanks to the Soldiers and appreciation to their families.

The Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Iraq to serve as the Joint Area Support Group in downtown Baghdad. The Joint Area Support Group controlled and coordinated all security and infrastructure for the U.S. Embassy Zone in Baghdad. The headquarters also tracked operations for two subordinate battalions and two separate companies assigned to the 116th operating elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait.

The unit suffered no fatalities during their deployment. One Soldier was wounded during a rocket attack in late summer 2007, but returned to duty after recovering from her injuries.

The 116th Infantry Brigade Headquarters deployed to Iraq during the troop surge, and their mobilization was part of a bridging strategy by National Guard Bureau. The 116th's

ability to rapidly deploy their headquarters into Iraq on short notice allowed time for other National Guard brigades to fully organize as brigade elements for mobilization.

The 116th Infantry Brigade did not deploy as a single unit as most Guard brigades are doing now. In addition to the 116th's headquarters, all three of the unit's battalions were mobilized for duty overseas. One battalion served in Kosovo, one battalion currently serves in Iraq and the third is in Kuwait. This deployment strategy allowed for critical units to deploy where the Department of Defense was in need of troops.

Local citizens from Staunton were out in force Feb. 21 to welcome home the Soldiers from Headquarters, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. (Photo by Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Once these other brigades began arriving in Iraq, it freed up units deployed during the troop surge to return home earlier than scheduled. This return schedule varies from unit to unit depending on their mission, so there is no guarantee that either of the two other deployed battalions of the 116th will return home earlier than scheduled.

While companies and battalions from the 116th Infantry Regiment have mobilized and deployed in recent years, this is the first time the brigade headquarters has mobilized for duty during the Global War on Terror. The headquarters last deployed for combat operations during World War II.

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