June 22, 2010

Lynchburg-based Virginia National Guard infantry battalion scheduled for early return from Iraq

From Staff Reports

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER - The Virginia National Guard's Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment is scheduled to return early from their federal mobilization to Iraq and should be back in Virginia by early September. The unit mobilized in January 2010 and was originally scheduled to serve a 12-month tour of federal active duty.

While the unit has not received its official demobilization order, senior leaders in the battalion have been notified by their chain of command in Iraq about the early return for approximately 400 Soldiers stationed in Southern Iraq.

According to Lt. Col. Scott Smith, commander of 1st Battalion, the change is consistent with a long announced plan to bring an end to all combat operations in Iraq and reduce troop levels to no more than 50,000 Soldiers by 1 September 2010 as part of the responsible drawdown of forces.

"We first heard rumors of the curtailment affecting our brigade when we arrived in Kuwait to begin our Theater Specific Required Training," Smith said. "It was just a rumor, but the issue has been circulating throughout our time here. The mission in Iraq is changing daily and our convoy security operations are expected to adjust as we implement the reduction of forces.  It was inevitable that some of our strength would be reapportioned."

The schedule was confirmed in an open letter last week to all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in Iraq from Commanding General Raymond T. Odierno.  While the actual schedule for troop movements and departure dates are not addressed, the message was unmistakable.  ". . [W]e will end combat operations and establish a transition force of Advisory and Assistance Brigades by September 1, 2010," Odierno wrote. "At this important juncture Operation Iraqi Freedom will end and Operation New Dawn will begin," he added. 

Virginia's leaders learned soon after their arrival in country that a curtailment was possible and have been preparing for the formal announcement for changes in the 256th Brigade Combat Team, with whom they are currently deployed, Smith said.

The change in mission and redeployment is felt especially keenly by these Virginia Soldiers who were activated to support the Louisiana Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with just over sixty days notice. Most of the Soldiers in the battalion expected to be away from home for at least a year. 

"We are certain that our families will welcome the news that their Soldiers will be returning home early," Smith said. "We do understand that this change will fall hard on some families who didn't expect to be job hunting this fall. As guardsmen, they asked their employers to hold their job for a year and in some cases our Soldiers left their job to come on this deployment.  For those Soldiers and families facing potential financial hardship as a result of the curtailment, I have promised that we will do everything we can to assist them in this difficult transition."

The 1st Battalion was first alerted for deployment in mid October of 2009 and arrived at Contingency Operating Base Adder in March, as part of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).  Newly designated "Task Force Overlord" the 1-116th Infantry Battalion's primary mission is to provide convoy security for commodity vehicles delivering essential supplies to multiple bases within the Iraqi Theater in order to support the responsible drawdown of U.S. Troops and equipment in Iraq.

"Since we came to Iraq, we have conducted more than one hundred escort missions and safely escorted thousands of tons of fuel and supplies over thousands of miles of supply routes throughout the country," Smith said. "We have executed our mission without fail and it's this success that makes it possible for the drawdown to progress. I am extremely proud of our units and our Soldiers' contribution to this historic effort."

The leadership of Task Force Overlord is working hard to ensure a smooth transition back home for the Soldiers. "We have dozens of college students in our battalion who were planning to miss the fall semester, and we plan to do everything we can now to try and get our college students back home in time to start school in the fall," said the Battalion Command Sgt. Major John D. Braziel of Ferrum, Va. "We are doing outreach to the universities to help ease the transition and set these guys up for success. When their country needed them, they dropped everything and headed off to war. We owe it to them to get this right."

The 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment is based in Lynchburg and is part of the 116th Brigade Combat Team of the Virginia National Guard. The battalion has had Soldiers deployed in every major conflict since the World War I, where they earned the motto "Ever Forward" on the battlefields of France.  The unit is widely recognized as one of the most important participants in the historic D-Day landing at Normandy France during the Second World War Companies attached to the 1-116th were selected to land and occupy Omaha Beach sixty-six years ago on June 6, 1944.  For their heroic efforts and subsequent liberation of the French town of Vire, the 1-116th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

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