Feb. 24, 2010

Engineer and MP companies hold Freedom Salutes

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company and Manassas-based 266th Military Police Company gathered at the Omni Richmond Hotel Feb. 21 to conduct Freedom Salutes in honor of each unit’s service in Iraq.

“On behalf of Gov. McDonnell, I want to thank you all for what you have done both for your commonwealth and for your country,” said Marla Decker, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety. “To the families, thank you for taking care of things on the home front while our Soldiers were away doing their duty. We can’t ever forget what our men and women in uniform have done.”

Approximately 160 Soldiers from the 180th returned to Virginia Oct. 6, 2009 after serving in Iraq since December 2008 and approximately 130 Soldiers from the 266th returned to Virginia Sept. 24 after serving in Iraq since December 2008.

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.

 “You gave us a tremendous amount of connect and pride in Powhatan that we would have a small share in what was going on half way around the world,” Virginia Delegate R. Lee Ware, Jr., of the 65th District, told Soldiers from the 180th.. “I don’t know that I can remember anything in the 30 years that I lived in Powhatan that had a uniting effect like you representing us in this war against those who would undo the things that we love and that we cherish. On behalf of Powhatan, we express our gratitude and thanks for what you have done, what you continue to do and what you represent for all Virginians.”

The Freedom Salute recognized 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.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Huxtable, assistant adjutant general of Virginia-Army, presented each Soldier with the Virginia Governor’s National Service Medal. He also recognized the family members for their important contribution to the success of each unit during their mobilization. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you have done,” Huxtable told the family members. “They have done one terrific job, and a lot of it was because of you supporting them and being there for them while they were overseas.”

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.

The 180th also recognized the efforts of American Legion Post 201 for their support during the mobilization, and the 266th recognized VFW Post 7589 and American Legion Post 28 for their support. Billy H. Kornegay of American Legion Post 201 presented the 180th with a frame proclamation from Powhatan County recognizing the 180th’s service in Iraq.

While the 180th Engineer Company is headquartered in Powhatan, Soldiers from all over Virginia took part in the mission. Approximately 25 are from the Richmond area, about 20 are from the Southwest Virginia area, approximately 10 Soldiers are from Northern Virginia, about 10 are from the Hampton Roads area, approximately five are from the Shenandoah Valley area and about five are from the Lynchburg area.

While serving in Iraq, the 180th conducted more than 20 engineer missions, with six of them taking more than two months to complete. The missions included building or expanding small forward operating bases used for joint security patrols with Iraqi forces, unmanned aerial vehicle airstrip construction, training compound improvements for the Iraqi Special Forces, site preparation for a bridge installation and the reopening of the last stretch of Iraqi Highway 1. The unit also conducted joint missions with the Iraqi government.

During their nine months in Iraq, Soldiers from 180th traveled more than 252,000 vehicle miles, executed more that 14,000 miles of combat logistics patrols, operated engineer equipment for more than 42,000 hours, hauled more than 166,000 cubic meters of fill material, emplaced more than 12,000 concrete barriers and 50,000 HESCO barriers.

Soldiers in the 180th Engineers earned 18 Bronze Star Medals and 135 Army Commendation Medal, and the company was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for the service in Iraq.

Just as with the 180th, Soldiers from the 266th come from all over the state. Approximately 40 Soldiers are from the Northern Virginia area, about 20 are from the Richmond and Petersburg area, approximately 20 are from the Staunton and Harrisonburg area, about 15 are from the Hampton Roads area, approximately 10 are from the Roanoke and Southwest Virginia area, about 10 are from the Winchester and Woodstock area and the other Soldiers are from various locations across the state.

The Soldiers of the 266th operated throughout nearly the entire country of Iraq from Basra to Tikrit and into the Diyala River Valley. While deployed to Basra, the 266th, also known by their nickname “the Regulators”, supported the 8th Military Police Brigade from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The unit served as a Police Transition Team that trained, mentored and coached more than 1,000 Iraqi Police officers and conducted more than 500 combat patrols within the city of Basra. Soldiers from the 266th made great strides in enhancing the capacity of the Iraqi Police by helping them strengthen community relations, enhance the public’s perception of the Iraqi Police and train on basic law enforcement skills. They also conducted community service projects with the Iraqi Police at local schools to deliver desks and schools supplies for the students.

In June the company moved north to join the 37th Engineer Battalion, Joint Task Force Eagle from Fort Bragg, N.C., where they conducted more than 80 counter indirect fire missions with no causalities or loss of combat power in support of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Counter indirect fire missions were conducted through patrols that helped reduce the mortar and rocket attacks directed at Joint Base Balad and improved the security for more than 30,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians assigned to the base. Soldiers from the 266th also conducted convoy security operations where they completed more than 30 convoy escort missions covering more than 2,500 kilometers throughout three Iraqi provinces.

Before the Freedom Salute, Soldiers from the 266th were awarded 21 Bronze Star Medals, 189 Army Commendation Medals and five Army Achievement Medals. At the end of the Freedom Salute, Sgt. Joseph Santolla of Lebanon was award the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in March 2009, and Spc. Aaron Thompson of Richmond was wounded in the same incident, and he was presented his Purple Heart certificate after having his Purple Heart awarded in Iraq.

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