Fort Pickett, Virginia, –
Col. Christopher J. Samulski took command of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Col. Joseph A. DiNonno July 31, 2020, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Maj. Gen. John M. Epperly, commander of the 29th Infantry Division, presided over the change of command ceremony and the exchange of organizational colors signifying the transfer of command from DiNonno to Samulski.
“The 116th IBCT has been operating at a very high operational tempo since at least 2004,” Epperly said. “For 16 years, this brigade has been the embodiment of the operational National Guard. We have thrown one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another at the Citizen-Soldiers of the brigade. Never in our history have we served at such a high optempo for so long.“
Epperly explained how during this time the National Guard has transitioned from a strategic reserve, fought a protracted counterinsurgency war, responded to natural disasters, plagues and pestilence and come full circle back to large scale ground combat operations.
“This brigade and its Soldiers have literally packed the entire gamut of 20th century challenges into the first two decades of the 21st century,” he said. “Every time the nation or the commonwealth called, the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was ready.”
Epperly said he was proud to have served with the Soldiers of the 116th in these volatile and uncertain times.
“History will note with special aplomb your remarkable service, sacrifice, gallantry and achievement that is represented in the fresh battle streamers earned by this generation,” he said. “You are truly America’s finest.”
Epperly recounted his previous assignments with DiNonno and how he and the brigade took everything thrown at them, and they were thrown a lot.
“Col. DiNonno’s command tour has arguably been the toughest and most complex command tour since World War II based on what we packed into it,” he said. “Through it all, both he and the brigade have shined.”
“It is my honor to stand before you and take a moment to express my pride in the accomplishments of the men and women of this brigade and what an absolute joy it has been to command an organization of such dedicated professionals,” DiNonno said.
DiNonno reviewed some of the key training events in the brigade over the last two years including platoon live-fire exercises, the eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation and preparations for the rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center cancelled due to health constraints brought on by COVID-19.
“We took complete advantage of the opportunity to more finely hone our staffs for decisive action in multi-domains during large scale ground combat,” he said. “From some of the of the most expeditionary and effective command posts, lethal platoons and companies, and effective fires at echelon, to runner up in the nation for the Connelly award and the first waterborne artillery exercise since the Vietnam War, the brigade was hitting its stride and overcoming friction inherent in preparing for any large scale exercise.”
He said challenges are a natural component of the struggle to improve, to become better, to achieve. “This brigade continues to interact, to cope, and adjust to challenges across the spectrum,” he said. “I am confident the brigade will continue to thrive and remain ready to answer the call of duty from wherever it comes, whenever it comes.”
DiNonno thanked senior leaders in the brigade including his command sergeant major, executive officers, brigade staff and battalion and squadron command teams as well as the Soldiers and NCOs of the brigade.
“Our formations are a cross section of our communities, ranks filled with men and women who made the conscious decision to sacrifice free time that would have otherwise been spent with family and loved ones,” he said. “A sacrifice that ensures they are all a part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone one of you is a patriot and has earned to right to the best leadership and training in the Army. Tough, realistic training is not only the surest way to forge lasting relationships borne of shared strife, it is the bedrock of taking care of Soldiers.”
Epperly said the brigade is in good hands with Samulski as the new commander. He reviewed Samulski’s service during support operations in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, company command during combat operations in Iraq, battalion command in Qatar and serving as the 29th ID operations officer during a Warfighter exercise.
“It’s crystal clear the 116th is getting a very seasoned commander who not only knows the unit, but he knows how to fight the brigade combat team.”
“Words alone can’t express the honor conveyed in being chosen as the commander of this historic unit,” Samulski said. “My goal is to teach, mentor and lead as many Soldiers as I can because so many people have invested so much in me, I owe that investment to other people. That is the honor of taking this command. It is great to be back in the brigade, I look forward to serving with you and continuing to build on the fine traditions of this historic unit.”
Epperly, DiNonno and Samulski all thanked their families and acknowledged the key role the played in supporting their careers.
About the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team:
The 116th IBCT is authorized approximately 3,500 Soldiers and is the largest major command in the Virginia National Guard. The 116th has units throughout Virginia from Winchester to Pulaski along I-81, from Staunton to Virginia Beach along I-64, from Danville to Lynchburg to Warrenton along Route 29 as well as Fredericksburg, Manassas and Leesburg. An infantry battalion based in Barbourville, Kentucky, is also aligned with the 116th for training and readiness oversight. A brigade combat team is the basic deployable unit of maneuver in the U.S. Army and carries with it support units necessary to sustain its operations away from its parent division. The 116th consists of three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a field artillery battalion, a brigade support battalion and brigade engineer battalion.
Leader Biography Summaries:
Samulski began his military career in 1995 when he enlisted as a mortarman in the Army National Guard, and he earned his commission as an Infantry officer in August 1997. He has served in a variety of staff and command positions including infantry company command, battalion operations officer, commander of the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and operations officer for the 29th Infantry Division. He deployed to Iraq in 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and commanded 1-116th Infantry during their deployment to Qatar in 2016 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Spartan Shield. Samulski received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, in 1995, and he also holds a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College Class of 2017.
DiNonno graduated from Old Dominion University and commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 1994. During the course of his career, he served in a wide variety of leadership positions including platoon leader, company executive officer, Infantry company commander, planner, squadron operations officer, squadron executive officer, squadron commander and Infantry brigade executive officer. He mobilized and deployed to Guantanamo Bay in 2002-03 and Kuwait in 2007-08 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and to Iraq in 2011 in support of Operation New Dawn. DiNonno holds a Juris Doctor from Regent Law School, a Masters in Strategic Studies from the Army War College and a Bachelor of Science from Old Dominion University, and his military achievements include earning the U.S. Army Ranger Tab, Expert Infantryman Badge, Airborne Badge and Air Assault Badge.