January 10, 2005
Task Force Normandy awards Soldiers for service; dedicates camp to fallen Soldiers
By Staff Sgt. Mark Turney and
AFGHANISTAN -- In two separate ceremonies not seen in more than 58 years, Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division currently stationed in Afghanistan, have been authorized to wear the unit’s patch on their right sleeves; a signifier to all that the Soldier has served in a combat theater.
Not since the 29th Infantry Division spearheaded the beachhead invasion at Normandy on D-Day, have the members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry been authorized to wear the distinctive blue and grey patch as a combat patch. That changed on Nov. 2 and Nov. 19, 2004.
Standing before some 200 men and women in Forward Operating Base Ghazni, Col. Gary H. Cheek, commander of Joint Task Force Thunder, said all the Soldiers have joined the legions of Americans that have gone before them and served the nation in combat, and they will forever be part of that elite group.
“Know that every one of you has made a contribution, every one of you is making a sacrifice here in this nation, first to make it a better place for the people, and also, a place where it can never again serve as a staging ground for terrorists,” Cheek said.
The 3rd Battalion played an important part in Afghanistan’s first free election in the history of the nation as a part of Combined Joint Task Force 76, comprised of members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Soldiers provided security for polling stations and conducted combat patrols in an effort to keep the remnants of the Taliban from carrying out their promises to disrupt or destroy polling places and the people voting.
“In the 5,000 year history of this nation, [Afghanistan] never had free elections and you were here and made your individual contribution to the first free election in the history of this troubled nation,” said Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olsen, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, as he surveyed the proud men and women gathered before him.
All in all that afternoon, more than three hundred combat patches, sixteen Combat Infantryman Badges, one Combat Medical Badge was awarded to members of the 3rd Battalion for having served their country honorably. The Purple Heart was awarded to 1st Lt. Heath Phillips for wounds sustained while conducting combat operations.
In another somewhat more somber ceremony a mere twenty days later, a similar group of men stood in formation at rigid attention listening as the names of their friends and comrades, Staff Sgt. Craig Cherry and Sgt. Bobby Beasley, were read off. Command Sgt. Major Michael McGhee, Command Sgt. Maj. for 3-116th, and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Huffman, Command Sgt. Maj. for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Army National Guard, moved before a sign wrapped in a camouflaged cloth, lowered the cloth and the former Camp Bulldog was officially re-designated as Camp Cherry-Beasley in honor of the two fallen Soldiers.
Cherry and Beasley were killed in action when their vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device on August 7, 2004. Also killed in the explosion was their interpreter Ajmal Behrouz.
After a moment of silence, Maj. Gen. Arthur Wyman, 29th Infantry Division Commanding General, stood behind the podium and spoke about the assembled Soldiers’ “dedication to country and their dedication to freedom.”
Following Wyman, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Maj. Gen. Claude A. Williams remarked to the Soldiers, “sacrifices made by you will help to bring about a new Afghanistan and safer America. Your families and Virginia are proud of each of you.”
The loud clear voice of the Adjutant’s Call was heard echoing throughout Camp Cherry-Beasley, “Bring your units to attention.” As the commands were echoed throughout the assembled, Williams, Wyman, Cheek, and Col. Robert H. Simpson, commander of the 1st Brigade, 29th Infantry Division, moved forward to present each Soldier with their combat patch.
In addition to the combat patches, twenty-six Combat Infantrymen’s Badges and one Combat Medical Badge were awarded to those that put their lives in harm’s way.