November 20, 2008

West Point-based 237th Engineer Company holds Freedom Salute

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

The Adjutant General of Virginia, Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman Jr., pins the Purple Heart Medal on Cpl. Joshua Primm at the 237th Engineer Company's Freedom Salute in Williamsburg, Va. Primm was also awarded the Army Commendation Medal with V device and the Army Combat Action Badge for his service in Iraq. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company gathered in Williamsburg Nov. 16 to conduct a Freedom Salute in honor of the unit’s service in Iraq. Approximately 105 Soldiers from the unit returned to Virginia July 20 after serving in Iraq since September 2007.

“I hope you realize that we know here in Virginia that whether we need you in here the Commonwealth or if your country needs you overseas in the Global War on Terrorism that we can always count on you,” Virginia Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall told the Soldiers of the 237th Engineer Company. “Please know that we don’t take that for granted. We have tremendous respect for each and every one of you and we are very proud of you.”

Marshall also expressed appreciation for the support the Soldiers received from their families. “We are also here to take time to say thank you to your families for the important role that you play time and time again, deployment after deployment keeping things together back at home so these Soldiers can focus on their important mission,” he said. “Thanks to you for your support that means so much to these Soldiers.”

The Freedom Salute was a day of mixed emotions for the unit. The handing out of awards and recognition of their service was tempered by the fact that the unit lost four Soldiers over the course of the mobilization.

Cpl. Joshua Primm of Williamsburg was medically evacuated Oct. 25 after being severely injured in an IED attack that claimed the lives of Sgt. David Eugene Lambert and Sgt. Derek R. Banks. After over a year of working to recover from his wounds, Primm was seeing his fellow Soldiers from the unit for the first time since he was medically evacuated.

“These guys are awesome,” Primm said. “When times are tough, these guys are at their best.”

Primm said he planned to return to the unit after completing his recovery and hoped to serve as a team leader. He said he looked forward to deploying with the unit again and was “ready to go.”

After the Freedom Salute, the unit conducted a change of command ceremony where Capt. Beau Mason turned over command of the unit to 1st Lt. Jonathon York.

“You get to lead these fine outstanding Soldiers, and it is humbling,” Mason said. “You see their accomplishments, you see what they have done and you see what their capabilities are, and you see why the United States is the greatest nation in the world: because of your Soldiers. I have watched each and every single one of you grow, and each one of you has boundless potential.”

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.

In addition to the items presented as part of the Freedom Salute, the 237th Engineer Company presented three Purple Heart Medals, one Meritorious Service Medal, 11 Army Commendation Medals with “V” device for Valor, four Army Commendation Medals and five Combat Action Badges.

The company been also been included in 1st Battalion, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment’s (SCR) nomination for a Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor a military unit can receive, for actions in Sadr City and were included in the nomination of the 107th Engineer Battalion for a Meritorious Unit Citation for the outstanding, steadfast and faithful service as a route clearance element for Multi-National Division – Baghdad. .  

The 237th Engineer Company is a “Sapper” unit of combat engineers who specialize in demolitions and light infantry tactics. They are used to conduct breaching operations ahead of maneuver elements, leading the way for friendly forces to conduct offensive operations.

Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, shakes hands with Sgt. Maj. Donald Westbrooks after pinning him with the Army Commendation Medal. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

While serving in Iraq, the 237th Engineer Company was tasked to conduct route clearance missions. During route clearance operations, patrols search for improvised explosive devices along main and alternate supply routes for maneuver elements within their assigned areas.

“Soldiers from the 237th Engineer Company were instrumental in spearheading the shaping and isolation operations within Sadr City during its peak in violence and their efforts directly lead to the peaceful resolution of hostilities within Sadr City,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan York, the operations officer for the company.

The 237th Engineers conducted route clearance operations throughout Eastern Baghdad in support of the 82nd Airborne and 4th Infantry Divisions. During their time in Eastern Baghdad, the unit successfully cleared more than 16,000 miles of routes, finding and clearing more than 60 IEDs and unexploded ordnances; of which many were the deadly explosively formed penetrators.

In addition to route clearance operations, Soldiers from the 237th conducted other engineer operations to support their Brigade Combat Teams to include over 900 miles of route sanitation, 200 construction support missions including the construction of 25 traffic control points, and moving over 4,000 cubic yards of dirt.

The 237th Engineer Company lost four Soldiers during the mobilization and deployment:

  • Staff Sgt. Jonathan M. Forde died of illness on Aug. 13, 2007, during mobilization training at Fort McCoy.
  • Sgt. David E. Lambert was killed on October 25, 2007 when an IED struck his vehicle.
  • Sgt. Derek R. Banks died of wounds suffered from the same incident on November 14, 2007 at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
  • Staff Sgt. Jeremiah McNeal, who was on his second tour in Iraq, was killed on April 6, 2008 when his vehicle was struck by an IED.

These Soldiers names were added to the monument outside of the West Point Armory, which was erected to following the loss of Sgt. Nicholas C. Mason and Sgt. David A. Ruhren during the unit’s deployment in 2004-2005.

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