October 8, 2008

Winchester-based Virginia Guard battalion wins top readiness award

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Pulbic Affairs

Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Army, presents the Walter T. Kerwin, Jr. Readiness Award for Army’s Most Outstanding National Guard Unit to the senior leaders of the Virginia National Guard’s Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team at the Association of the United States Army’s Eisenhower Luncheon Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C. From left to right, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., Lt. Col. John Epperly, Command Sgt. Major Alan Ferris, Lt. Col. William Zana and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, Sergeant Major of the Army. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) (Click HERE for a high resolution version of this photo.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Virginia National Guard’s Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team received the Walter T. Kerwin, Jr. Readiness Award for Army’s Most Outstanding National Guard Unit at the Association of the United States Army’s Eisenhower Luncheon Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C.

“These citizen soldiers have been chosen as the nation’s best,” said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, president of AUSA, as he read the inscription of the plaque. “Knowing the competition, every member of the winning unit can take pride in his or her contributions to the Army’s readiness.”

Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Army, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, presented the award to Lt. Col. John Epperly, commander of 3rd Battalion during the unit’s deployment to Iraq and Kuwait from September 2007 to April and May 2008, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, the battalion’s command sergeant major. Lt. Col. William Zana, executive officer of 3rd Battalion during the deployment, was also on stage for the presentation. Zana assumed command of the battalion from Epperly in August 2008.

Sullivan explained that years ago AUSA joined with the Reserve Officers Association and the National Guard Association in a project to recognize readiness achievement by Army Reserve and National Guard units. The award was named for retired Gen. Walter T. Kerwin, Jr., who served as the first commander of United States Forces Command and also as Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1978.

Kerwin was a strong advocate of the “One Army,” or “Total Army,” concept that recognized the important role of the National Guard and U. S. Army Reserve. The plans and programs he set in motion resulted in a significant improvement in the readiness of reserve components, Sullivan said.

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, made the final selection of 3rd Battalion after reviewing all the submission packets.

“I looked at all the packets, and this unit clearly met and exceeded all the standards, as this unit has since its inception,” Blum said. “It was no surprise to me that this battalion would meet and exceed the standards. It gave me a great sense of pride to formally recognize the excellence this unit has exhibited over the years.”

The 3rd Battalion was notified of their mobilization for Iraq in spring of 2007, just 19 months after having served for a year in Afghanistan. The unit shifted from a reset and recovery posture to a mobilization train up in the span of four months. During the train up, they were augmented with more than 500 Soldiers from 42 different units across Virginia to form Task Force Normandy and deploy in the fall of 2007.

Epperly acknowledged that the award recognizes a conglomeration of Soldiers from all over Virginia that came together to form Task Force Normandy for the mobilization. He also stressed the vital role of families and employers and the support they provided Soldiers during the mobilization.

“A lot of families have seen their Soldiers go over two and three times,” he said. “That’s extraordinary. They come back time and time again to support these guys and gals as they go over. They know a war is going on, they know there is a chance they could go again and then keep coming back.”

Zana said that the award represents readiness on paper in the sense that a review board went through looked a series of readiness statistics, but added that the true measurement of the effectiveness of all the hard work on the part of Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers was the success of the deployment.

“We successfully deployed, took 800-plus Soldiers down range from more than 40 different units, and brought them all back safely,” Zana said. “These Soldiers, with the support of their families and outstanding leadership at the team and squad level, were able to pull that off.”

During his speech after the presentation of the award, Casey commented that the Army needed agile and flexible leaders and Soldiers, able to adapt to any situation. Ferris said he felt the award showed how 3rd Battalion and the rest of the Virginia National Guard could do just that.

“Our Soldiers, NCOs and officers came together in a very short time frame to do exactly what Gen. Casey and the rest of the nation expects of us,” Ferris said.

The battalion also earned the award in 1992.

The battalion also received the Milton A. Reckord Trophy at the 130th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Baltimore, Md., Sept. 22.

Both the Kerwin Award and the Reckord Trophy are part of an awards program that began in 1936 with the initial presentation of the Pershing Plaques for unit marksmanship. In 1975, the Milton A. Reckord Trophies were added. In 1978, the General Walter T. Kerwin Award for Readiness was established.

The Kerwin Awards are presented annually, normally by the Chief of Staff of the Army at the AUSA Conference. The Army National Guard winner is selected from among the recipients of the Major General Milton A. Reckord Trophy. Competition is open to qualified Army Guard battalions with an annual training rating of excellent or outstanding and with at least two organic or attached unites that meet “Superior Unit Award” criteria.

Battalions also must have an effective maintenance program for all units and must achieve readiness objectives as outlined by U.S. Forces Command. The Army Guard Kerwin Award winner is the unit determined to have the highest level of readiness in the country.

The Milton A. Reckord Trophy is awarded to the outstanding battalion in each of the Army areas, providing all pertinent criteria are met (as described in the criteria for the Walter A. Kerwin, Jr. Readiness Award). Due to the stringent criteria stipulated for the award of this trophy, many areas do not boast an award winner on a yearly basis.

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