June 22, 2009

116th Brigade Combat Team changes command

By Capt. Nevin J. Blankenship
116th BCT Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Soldiers of the Staunton-based 116th Brigade Combat Team, 29th Infantry Division said goodbye June 21 to the man who led them through an eight-month tour in Iraq during a traditional change of command ceremony.

  116th BCT change of command

Col. Blake Ortner receives the colors of the 116th Brigade Combat Team from Brig. Gen. Stephen Huxtable, symbolizing his assumption of command of the 116th BCT. The 116th Brigade Combat Team conducted a Change of Command Ceremony between the outgoing commander, Col. William Phillips, and the incoming commander, Col. Blake Ortner, Sunday, June 21 at 10 a.m. at the Fort Pickett Stadium. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) 

Brigade commander Col. William R. Phillips, II relinquished his command to Col. Blake C. Ortner during the ceremony at Fort Pickett, Va. Phillips is from Staunton and Ortner lives in Stafford.

Phillips presented retired Brig. Gen. Theodore G. Shuey, Jr., former brigade commander, a nickel-plated AK-47 rifle that was captured during the units’ deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Arabic inscription on the rifle said, “From the President, Saddam Hussein.”  The AK-47 will be displayed in the new 116th Regimental Museum in Staunton, Va., once the museum is completed.

Phillips opened his remarks by thanking everyone for their support of him and the Soldiers of the 116th BCT.  He talked about the numerous unit deployments and accomplishments of the brigade during his two and half years as the commander.

“The amazing part of all this, is that it was done with part-time traditional Virginia Army National Guard soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade,” said Phillips.

He told the leaders of the brigade to adhere to four principles. Enforce the standards, trust your instincts, keep subordinates involved and you are soldiers and leaders.

“I can’t be any more proud of our soldiers and I thank you for your support,” said Phillips.

“This is an exciting time for the 116th Brigade Combat Team, since the Global War on Terrorism began, this brigade has been very successful in one of its busiest stretches in history,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen L. Huxtable, assistant adjutant general of Virginia for Army.

The brigade has deployed its largest amount of soldiers since World War II in support of the Global War on Terror.

The 116th BCT is the largest command in the Virginia Army National Guard with more than 3,500 Soldiers serving in armories throughout the state. The brigade's 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry is headquarters in Lynchburg, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry is based in Winchester, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry is headquartered in Portsmouth, the 429th Brigade Support Battalion is based in Danville and the 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion is headquarters in Fredericksburg.

Huxtable quoted Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton, Jr., on Phillips’ leadership, “He excelled in all aspects of his critical and challenging billets, leading a diverse group of organizations that include the installations, support, operations and security for the IZ [International Zone] for over 35,000 residents.” Paxton was Phillips supervisor while he was in Iraq.

  116th BCT change of command

Brig. Gen. Stephen Huxtable, assistant adjutant general of Virginia for Army, presents Col. William Phillips, the outgoing commander of the 116th BCT, with the Legion of Merit award. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Huxtable presented Phillips with the Meritorious Service Medal and the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit for his exceptional service as commander of the brigade.  Col. Robert H. Simpson, former brigade commander, presented Phillips with the Order of Saint Maurice for his significant contributions to the infantry. The 116th BCT Headquarters and the Headquarters Company were awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit citation for their exceptional service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Col. Ortner is the right man for the job,” said Huxtable. “The brigade is the best and together we will keep it the best.”
“I cannot think of a better honor than to be the commander of this group of soldiers,” said Ortner.  “This has been a long journey to this ceremony.”

The new brigade commander ended with, “Ever Forward”, and the troops responded, “Stonewall,” in the tradition of honoring Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Background information:

The Virginia Army National Guard’s Staunton-based Headquarters, 116th Brigade Combat Team (Stonewall Brigade) served in Iraq from June 2007 to February 2008 as the Joint Area Support Group in downtown Baghdad. The Joint Area Support Group controlled and coordinated all security and infrastructure for the Multinational Forces – Iraq and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s International Zone (better known as the Green Zone). The headquarters also tracked operations for two subordinate battalions and two separate companies assigned to the 116th operating elsewhere in Iraq and Kuwait.

The unit suffered no fatalities during their deployment. One Soldier was wounded during a rocket attack in late summer 2007, but returned to duty after recovering from her injuries.

The 116th Brigade Headquarters deployed to Iraq during the troop surge, and their mobilization was part of a bridging strategy by National Guard Bureau. The 116th's ability to rapidly deploy their headquarters into Iraq on short notice allowed time for other National Guard brigades to fully organize as brigade elements for mobilization.

While companies and battalions from the 116th Infantry Regiment have mobilized and deployed in recent years, this is the first time the brigade headquarters has mobilized for duty during the Global War on Terror. The headquarters last deployed for combat operations during World War II.

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