Aug. 25, 2010

Lynchburg-based infantry battalion returns to Virginia from Iraqi duty 

By Cotton Puryear        
Virginia Dept. of Military Affairs

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Approximately 300 Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team returned to the United States Aug. 25 after serving in Iraq since March 2010. The Soldiers flew into the Roanoke Regional Airport where they were greeted by senior leaders of the Virginia Guard as well as World War II veterans from the 29th Infantry Division Association and then travelled by bus to be reunited with their family and friends in their home armories in Bedford, Christiansburg, Lexington and Lynchburg.

 

Members of the 29th Infantry Division Association who served in World War II greet Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Aug. 25 at the Roanoke Regional Airport. The Soldiers returned to Virginia after serving in Iraq since March. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Va. Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

"They went for five straight months without a break, every day, without a fault," Lt. Col. Scott Smith, commander of 1st Battalion, said of the Soldiers in the unit. "They never had an accident, they never got blown up, and I attribute that to their discipline and to the leadership of the NCOs and young officers."

The Soldiers arrived in the United States Aug. 19 and conducted a number of different administrative activities at their demobilization station at Camp Shelby, Miss., to transition from active duty back to traditional National Guard status prior to returning to Virginia. The Soldiers began their tour on federal active duty Jan. 5, 2010, after having just over sixty days notification about their deployment.

“The 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry has a rich tradition of service here in Virginia and overseas, and your success in this mission adds another chapter that should make every member of your unit feel a great sense of pride,” Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a letter to the Soldiers of 1st Battalion after they ended their mission Aug. 8. (Full text of Governor’s letter is copied below)

 

Staff Sgt. Justin Owen receives a long awaited hug at the Lexington-based Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment welcome home ceremony Aug. 25 at the Lexington armory. The Soldiers recently returned from a federal active duty mobilization to Iraq. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen,
Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

A group of approximately 70 Soldiers from the battalion returned Aug. 17 to Virginia.

The battalion operated out of Contingency Operating Base Adder in Southern Iraq with the mission of securing resupply convoys along the main supply routes in the central, southern and northern sectors of Iraq in order to prevent anti-Iraqi Forces from disrupting theater sustainment operations.

The unit was scheduled to be on federal duty until December, but their mission was curtailed as they were tasked to assist in the responsible draw down of U.S. forces in Iraq.

"No other unit, active or reserve, is asked to deploy with only 60 days notice and then performs a difficult and dangerous mission without incident or injury,” Smith said. “As we were leaving, both the general officers who served as our division-level commanders told me that they regretted we were included in the draw down because of our excellent record and professionalism. This is a reputation that should make the Commonwealth proud and is worthy of our battalion's rich history.”

 

Soldiers of the Lexington-based Company B march toward their armory to be greeted by friends and family during a welcome home ceremony Aug. 25. The Company B Soldiers returned from a federal active duty mobilization to Iraq with the Roanoke-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment where they conducted convoy security. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

Soldiers were organized into convoy escort teams operating Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and the teams provided security for convoys that transported hundreds of personnel, supplies and equipment from different units in United States Forces-Iraq to other destinations such as combat outposts, convoy security centers and COBs throughout the country.

The battalion completed 278 convoy escort missions travelling more than 172,300 miles and transported in excess of 120 million gallons of fuel and 900 thousand short tons of supplies without any injuries. Convoy escort teams reacted to 22 enemy attacks from small arms fire, indirect fire and IED detonations.

“We had one of the highest utilization rates in theater and we kept our CET’s out on the road every day, despite the challenge of not having our own organic mechanics or motor pool section,” said Maj. Christopher Samulski, the battalion operations officer.  “In a way, we did what every Guard unit [does], we took advantage of the fact that many of our riflemen have civilian training as mechanics. Despite the fact that none of them had ever worked on an MRAP before, we ended up with a 90% operational readiness rate during our time here. This is an amazing accomplishment, and I am very proud of the work they have done here.”

The 1st Battalion headquarters is in Lynchburg, and the Bedford and Farmville-based Company A and the Lexington and Clifton Forge-based Company B were officially mobilized for duty. Soldiers from the Christiansburg and Radford-based Company C and the Pulaski and Martinsville-based Company D also took part in the mobilization.

The battalion last mobilized for peacekeeping duty in Kosovo from August 2006 to November 2007. Many Soldiers in the battalion were previously mobilized for duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from November 2002 to September 2003 when the unit was designated 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion are no strangers to stepping up to answer the call of duty. Right after the unit's drill weekend in February 2008 welcoming Soldiers back from a year of duty in Kosovo, more than 100 Soldiers went on state active duty to assist with the firefighting efforts in Southwest Virginia. Soldiers from the battalion also geared up to provide support in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hanna in early September 2008. Approximately 250 Soldiers assisted the Secret Service with the operation of security checkpoints along the President Obama inauguration parade route.

Approximately 130 1st Battalion Soldiers from Bedford, Clifton Forge, Covington, Christiansburg, Lexington, Pulaski, Salem, Radford and Roanoke were assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team for combat duty in Afghanistan from March 2004 to July 2005. Other individual Soldiers from the battalion have taken part in mobilizations throughout the state.

Additional background information:

Virginia’s Task Force Overlord prepares for Iraq departure 
http://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/VirginiaGuard/news/aug10/1-116thEOM.html

For this Virginia Guard unit, it's time to pack up (The Virginian Pilot)
http://hamptonroads.com/2010/08/virginia-guard-unit-its-time-pack

For Virginia Guard unit, a final trek through Iraq (The Virginian Pilot)
http://hamptonroads.com/2010/07/virginia-guard-unit-final-trek-through-iraq

Spirit of D-Day lives on with Virginia Soldiers serving in Iraq
http://vko.va.ngb.army.mil/VirginiaGuard/news/june10/1-116thupdate.html

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Full text of Gov. McDonnell’s letter to the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment:

I am writing to congratulate you on a job well done and express my appreciation for your service in Iraq from March 1 to August 31, 2010. On behalf of all the citizens of the Commonwealth, we thank you for your dedication to duty and personal sacrifice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Your unit showed tremendous capability and patriotism when you prepared for this mission with just two months notice and stepped up to fill a gap in forces for the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Your actions demonstrate some of the very reasons I am so proud of all of the men and women in the Virginia National Guard -- the high state of readiness you all maintain and your willingness to answer our nation’s call to duty.

Your mission of providing escort teams to secure logistical convoys in general support of United States Forces - Iraq in order to prevent anti-Iraqi forces from disrupting theater sustainment operations was an important one. The resupply operations at various locations in a combat environment enabled United States Forces to conduct and achieve success in their assigned missions.

It is a testament to the professionalism and attention to detail of your soldiers and officers that the battalion completed 278 convoy escort missions travelling more than 172,300 miles and transported in excess of 120 million gallons of fuel and 900 thousand short tons of supplies without any injuries, while your teams reacted to 22 enemy attacks from small arms fire, indirect fire and IED detonations.

We also owe a special debt of gratitude to your families for their support of your mission. They are truly the unsung heroes, and my family knows first-hand the challenges your loved ones face as they wait for their Soldiers to return home.  Finally, we recognize the employers who have supported you and the mission.  I am thankful that our business community stands behind the noble efforts of our National Guard.

The 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry has a rich tradition of service here in Virginia and overseas, and your success in this mission adds another chapter that should make every member of your unit feel a great sense of pride.  I am certainly proud of all of you and, on behalf of a grateful Commonwealth, thank you for your service.

Sincerely,

Robert F. McDonnell

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