June 19, 2008

Staunton-area Va. Guard Soldiers hold Freedom Salute

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

STAUNTON, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard’s Staunton-based Headquarters, 116th Brigade Combat Team (Stonewall Brigade) gathered June 8 at Robert E. Lee High School to conduct a Freedom Salute in honor of the unit’s service in Iraq from June 2007 to February 2008.

“It is hard to believe it was only a year a go when we were tasked to deploy to Iraq,” Col William R. Phillips, II, commander of the 116th, told the group of Soldiers and families gathered for the event. “It was a stressful period, the Surge was underway but not yet successful, sectarian violence was high, the International Zone was being attack daily, and tensions were high and moral was low at all levels throughout Iraq.”

The Soldiers of the 116th hit the ground running despite these challenges, Phillips said.

“You quickly established order, discipline, and confidence within the International Zone among the various actors, civilian contractors, Department of State personnel, coalition forces, Iraqi Government officials and Iraqi civilians. Through their commitment to duty; the Stonewall Soldiers became the standard bearers in the International Zone.”

The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history, designed to publicly acknowledge Army Guard Soldiers and those who supported them during the President's call to duty for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The Freedom Salute recognizes the Soldiers, their families, employers and organizations that contributed significantly to supporting the unit during its deployment.
As part of the Freedom Salute campaign, each Soldier received an American flag in a wood display case, a Defender of Freedom certificate as well as commemorative coins and medallions.

The Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 116th 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 Multinational Forces – Iraq and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s International Zone (better known as the Green Zone). The headquarters also tracked operations for two subordinate battalions and two separate companies assigned to the 116th operating elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait.

The 116th 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.

During the Freedom Salute, Phillips outlined some of the many “firsts” the unit accomplished while in Iraq:

  • Established the first Base Defense Operations Center in the International Zone establishing unity of command.
  • Developed the first battle drills, incident response plans, and mass casualty plans in the International Zone.
  • For the first time, a Joint Area Support Group assumed tactical control of the International Zone Security Battalion, an active duty combat battalion, for the security and protection of the International Zone.
  • Managed the largest Biometric Information System for Access Office in the Iraqi Theater of Operations. Processed more than 21,000 badge applications, 19,000 Biometric enrollments, and issued more than 17,000 Multi-National Forces – Iraq badges to Government of Iraq, Coalition, NATO, Department of Defense, and Department of State contractors.
  • Created and implemented the first badging video in Arabic.
  • Developed and implemented the first badge expiration schedule that monitored and tracked Government of Iraq Tier 1 and Tier 2 officials.
  • Established the first portable or mobile Biometrics system in the International Zone.
  • Conducted for the first time in the International Zone 100% Biometric checks at the Entry Control Points.
  • Established the first Force Protection and Anti-terrorism inspection schedule covering down on thirty-two key infrastructures in the International Zone including the Council of Representatives Building, International Zone Perimeter, and all the Entry Control Points.
  • Stood up the first International Zone Transition Team encompassing a $4.3 billion effort across four lines of operations: International Zone Consolidation Plan, Joint Master Plan, Urban and Community Redevelopment Plan, and the Economic Development Plan.
  • Manned, equipped, and trained the first Embassy Annex Transition Team.
  • Executed over $25 million in sustainment services, restoration, and modernization projects, including a new soccer field, new water lines, lift station, street and substation repairs, and clinic restoration serving over 35,000 Iraqi residents.

The Distinguished Center of Influence award was presented to Veterans of Foreign War Post 2216 and the Ladies Auxiliary Group of the Post. The award, a 17-inch “Minuteman” statue, is presented to an individual or organization the unit felt was most helpful to its Soldiers and their families during mobilization.

Post Commander Bill McChesney, and the auxiliary leader, Susan Gonzales, accepted the award for the post.

The unit also recognized the support of Wendy Johnson from Luray Elementary School for her outstanding support during the mobilization. She was presented with a frame mosaic print.

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