By Spc. Nicki Fellenzer
WINCHESTER, Va. – “Freedom salute today is your day,” Brig. Gen. Theodore Shuey told an audience of Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, their families, friends and supporters at Shenandoah University’s Ohrstrom-Bryant Theater Sunday. “It is a day when your community, when your Commonwealth of Virginia and your country say thank you.”
The Soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company returned home to their families and friends in July 2005 after having served in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and Sunday’s Freedom Salute honored the troops, as well as their families and others who have supported them during their deployment.
For their service and sacrifice, the troops received special American flag in a wooden display case, a commemorative coin depicting the Army National Guard Minuteman on one side and a special “Defender of Freedom” design on the other, and the “Defender of Freedom” Certificate. However, the troops were not the only ones honored during the ceremony. Families and others who went the extra mile to support the Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry also received special gifts. “There is not one guy here today,” Shuey told the families and friends present, “who won’t say he could not have done it without your support.”
As a sign of appreciation, the spouses and the Soldiers exchanged special commemorative pins, while younger family members were honored with a “Future Soldier Footlocker Kit,” which included games, trading cards and a comic book. Additionally, members of the Family Readiness Group were honored with certificates and medals for their work in supporting the loved ones of the deployed troops.
Four Soldiers received Purple Hearts for injuries received in Afghanistan. Shuey pinned these oldest military decorations on 1st Lt. Heath Phillips, Sgt. Timothy Orso, Spc. Dustin Bowers and Spc. Ryan Oakes. Additionally former battalion commander Lt. Col. Blake Ortner received a Bronze Star for his service during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Soldiers’ service in Afghanistan was marked not only by combat missions, but also by nation-building. “Stonewall” Brigade Commander Col. Mike Harris told the audience the Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard would not be soon forgotten in Afghanistan. “Our soldiers will be etched in the hearts of the nation of Afghanistan forever,” he said. “You helped build a nation. Thank you for what you did and what you continue to do.”
Former HHC Commander Capt. Mark Nelson also expressed gratitude to the troops with whom he served. Nelson, in an emotional salute to his fellow Soldiers, explained the enormity of the trials they faced every day while deployed to Afghanistan. “They’ve met challenges every single day head on,” he said, “faced them, accomplished them, and it was different than the challenge it was the day before.”
Shuey also thanked the Soldiers for the outstanding job they did, noting how proud he was of the way they faced everyday struggles of their deployments and how grateful the nation is for the job they did. “They can never thank you enough,” Shuey said. “They can never understand exactly what you went through over there or what you are going through now as you try to adjust to your life.”Various ceremonies throughout the state took place over the weekend. Soldiers from B Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry received their honors Sunday. The Freedom Salute for A Company took place Saturday in Manassas, and the Soldiers of C Company were honored in Bedford the same day.