Dec. 17, 2009

Governor presents service medal to Afghan advisors

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine presented the Governor's National Service Medal to 27 Virginia Guard Soldiers for their service in Afghanistan at a Freedom Salute held Dec. 13 in Richmond. The event is one of the last for Kaine in his role as commander in chief of the Virginia National Guard with his term as governor coming to an end in January 2010.


Gov. Timothy M. Kaine presents the Governor's National Service Medal to Maj. Jim Contreras at the Freedom Salute held Dec. 13 in Richmond to recognize the service of two Virginia National Guard Afghanistan embeded training teams. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Kaine shared the impact of a trip he made to Afghanistan soon after he became governor where he met Virginia Guard Soldiers and saw first hand the efforts of the U.S. military in the region.

“I certainly derived from my time in Afghanistan a belief in the nobility of the cause, and the challenge of it,” Kaine said. “We are here to honor you for being part of what America has done in that very difficult part of the world to hopefully bring about better days ahead for the people in Afghanistan.”

The Virginia Guard fielded two 16-Soldier advisory teams that served at the brigade and battalion level. The teams mobilized in August and September 2008 and returned to Virginia after serving a year on federal active duty where they served as advisors and mentors for the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Border Police.

“As President Obama has announced the surge going to Afghanistan, you know what he is talking about,” said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia. “You have been there, you have been on the front lines.”

Newman also thanked the families for supporting their Soldiers during the time they served overseas.

“You willingly and selflessly placed the protection of our nation and our commonwealth above your own safety and comfort, and you did it in a very difficult place far from home,” Kaine said. “It was not only your sacrifice, but the sacrifice of your family members as well. Your willingness to place the greater good over your own convenience and comfort speaks volumes about you and makes all Virginians proud.”

The two teams logged over 1,000 combat patrols, conducted nearly 500 humanitarian missions where they distributed food, water, tools and supplies, as well as assisting in the construction of wells.

Kaine also recognized the ultimate sacrifice of 1st Sgt. Kevin Dupont, a Massachusetts National Guard Soldier who joined the Virginia teams at Fort Riley and died June 17, 2009 from wounds he sustained from an improvised explosive attack.

“We were embedded and working, breathing, sleeping and fighting side by side with Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army. It was difficult, but it was also very rewarding,” said Maj. Jim Contreras of his service in Afghanistan. “The best part of the job was the reward we felt. There are people there who believe in their country, believe in what they were doing that they would volunteer to joint the police or join the army and fight for their freedom from the Taliban.”

The brigade advisory team was responsible for training and mentoring Afghanistan police and military forces and returned to Virginia Sept. 2. The team of 16 Soldiers served as mentors for the Regional Police Advisory Command – South and the Regional Corps Advisory Command – South since Dec. 24, 2008. Six of the Soldiers are from the Richmond area, three are from the Williamsburg area, two are from Northern Virginia and one Soldier from the Danville, Lynchburg and Hampton Roads area.

The battalion advisory team of 16 returned to Virginia Aug. 13 after serving on federal active duty since Aug. 15, 2008 with the mission of mentoring battalion-level Afghanistan security forces. Six of the Soldiers are from Staunton, two from Charlottesville, two from Northern Virginia and the rest came from other areas of Virginia including Roanoke, Blackstone and the Hampton Roads area.

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 will recognize 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 is scheduled to receive an American flag in a wood display case, a Defender of Freedom certificate as well as commemorative coins and medallions.

Governor Mark Warner directed the creation of the Governor's National Service Medal in 2005 so that he and future governors may publicly acknowledge the sacrifice and patriotism of the men and women of the Virginia National Guard who serve not only under the command of the governor but who also serve in an active federal status.

The front side of the medal features the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with the words "VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD" and "FOR COMMONWEALTH AND COUNTRY," while the reverse features a dogwood blossom and the words "GOVERNOR'S NATIONAL SERVICE MEDAL." The ribbon and drape consist of a band of solid blue, and a band of red and white stripes, to symbolize the Virginia and United States flags.

Related stories:

Virginia Guard mentor team returns from combat duty in Afghanistan

Brigade-level Afghan mentor team returns to Virginia

Warner awards Governor's National Service Medal

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