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NEWS | Aug. 27, 2008

Freedom Salutes honor Soldiers of 3rd Bn., 116th BCT

By Spc. Andrew H. Owen | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from Charlottesville, Woodstock, Leesburg, Fredericksburg, and Winchester gathered in multiple locations Aug. 16 and 17, 2008, to conduct Freedom Salute ceremonies to honor the service of 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team during its successful mission in Iraq and Kuwait from September 2007 to April and May 2008 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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 recognizes the Soldiers, their families, employers and organizations that contributed significantly to supporting the unit during its deployment.

“Without your support, we wouldn’t have been able to complete our mission,” said Lt. Col. John Epperly, commander of 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team. “You’re proud of them, but they’re proud of you too.”

To show their gratitude for continued support from the community, D Company presented an American flag flown over Camp Arifjan, Kuwait to Jeffry Fitzpatrick, owner of Blue & Gray Brewing Co.

Your sacrifice was not in vain or an empty one,” said Epperly, conveying his gratitude for all the support from families and the community that helped make the mission a success.

“We had two objectives- to do our jobs and do them well, and to bring everyone home alive,” said Epperly. “We completed both objectives.”

“I know it’s tough on families to see their Soldiers go downrange but without your support they wouldn’t be able to accomplish their mission,” said Maj. Gen. Robert B Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, during his remarks to the Soldiers and their families at the Fredericksburg Freedom Salutes.

At the Freedom Salute for the Headquarters Company in Winchester Aug.  17, the Honorable John O. Marsh, Jr., former secretary of the Army, and the Honorable John Marshall, Virginia secretary for public safety, joined senior leaders from the Virginia Guard.

“You have made a difference, a positive difference,” Marshall told the Soldiers from 3rd Battalion. “I especially want to thank the families. Their love, their support has been so critical in your being able to complete your missions successfully.”

Marshall added that the importance of the unit’s mission went beyond Virginia, but to the entire nation.

“We thank you, we salute you. As we salute you, we salute freedom,” he said. “You are not just Virginia heroes, but American heroes.”

Marsh served as Secretary of the Army from 1981 to 1989, and he also was elected to four terms as a Representative in Congress from the Seventh District of Virginia from 1963 to1971. Marsh told the crowd that from his service as Secretary of the Army and being a Guardsman, he recognized how vitally important the families are to our national defense.

“I can’t tell you how much you contribute to the success of these missions,” he told the families. “We couldn’t have a strong National Guard or Army without your support. Let’s never forget what they do for our country.”

“I stand should-to-shoulder with the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, rejoicing in your safe return,” said Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain of the 26th District at the A Company ceremony in Charlottesville.

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.

Soldiers of multiple deployments were given a commemorative clock to keep or give to their spouse as a token of their support during the deployment.

The ceremonies were held in multiple locations across the commonwealth based upon where the individual company’s home armories were near.

A Company held their ceremony at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville.

B Company formed at the Woodstock Armory in Woodstock.

Heritage High School in Leesburg hosted the Freedom Salute for C Company.

Meanwhile, D and F Companies had back-to-back ceremonies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

Finally, Headquarters Company was honored at the Shenandoah University Theater in Winchester.

A, B and C Companies, 3rd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team were assigned to convoy escort duty in Iraq and had numerous enemy engagements via improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and complex ambushes.  

A and B Companies operated in Al Anbar Province or Multinational Division West. A Company operated and in some of the most dangerous areas in Iraq to include Fallujah and Ramadi, and B Company operated in hot spots west of the Euphrates River and the far western portions of Iraq near the Syrian border. C Company provided convoy escort in Multi-National Division North and operated in some of the more recent danger areas around Mosul and Kirkuk.

The Headquarters Company, D Company and F Company were assigned to Security Force (SECFOR) missions in Kuwait. D Company provided protection to the strategically important deepwater port at Ash Shuaybah. F Company provided port security at Kuwait Naval Base and protection to ammunition sustainment operations and re-deploying coalition forces at Kuwait Naval Base. The Headquarters Company provided command and control to the battalion's port security missions as well as the Area Reaction Force for all of southern Kuwait, an area that covered over 6000 square kilometers of battlespace known as SECFOR South. 

“During its time in Kuwait and Iraq, 3rd Battalion was integral to the success of several operations, events and activities,” said Epperly. “The units stationed in Kuwait made significant gains and innovations in securing critical infrastructure vital to the war effort in all of southwest Asia.” 

For a period of over eight months, Headquarters Company, D and F companies, in concert with Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons 5 and 21, provided joint security to the two strategic deepwater ports in Kuwait.

“These ports were absolutely critical to the entire coalition war effort in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan since over 95% of all supplies coming into theater used these ports,” Epperly said.   
While securing these ports, the battalion searched over 100,000 vehicles and 300,000 people without disruption to the ports. The battalion's local combat patrols around the port facilities logged over 10,000 vehicle hours without a serious incident. The battalion also secured the loading and unloading of over 8,000 combat vehicles as several brigade combat teams flowed into and out of Iraq.

The Headquarters Company provided an Area Response Force for all of southern Kuwait.  Soldiers provided personal security detachments for distinguished visitors and aerial quick reaction forces for both the President's and First Lady's visits. They worked in a joint security environment with Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons 5 and 21 as well as the Air Force's 586th Expeditionary Warfare Group. 

D Company provided fixed site security and a Quick Reaction Force for the Seaport of Debarkation at Ash Shuaybah, Kuwait. This is the theater logistics center of gravity because over 90% of supplies for the warfights in Iraq and Afghanistan flow through this port. Delta's mission had strategic implications. They also worked in a joint security environment with Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons 5 and 21 as well as the Air Force's 586th Expeditionary Warfare Group. 

F Company provided fixed site security and Quick Reaction Force for Kuwait Naval Base. Their mission secured the Naval Base where all ammunition enters the theater. Further, they secured the deployment and re-deployment of five Marine Expeditionary Groups. They also worked in a joint security environment with Naval Coastal Warfare Squadrons 5 and 21 as well as the Air Force's 586th Expeditionary Warfare Group.  F Company worked closely with Navy Inshore Boat Units to provide seamless sea and land side security for the Naval Base.

During the deployment, 10 Soldiers from the battalion were wounded in action and all returned to duty. There were no fatalities. 

The 3rd Battalion, 116 Infantry, also referred to as Task Force Normandy, was alerted Feb. 3, 2007 for mobilization and overseas deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This alert came 19 months after the battalion returned from Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion entered active duty in late June 2007 for mobilization training prior to leaving the United States.

In the span of four months, the unit was able to staff and equip the battalion for the mission, calling upon Soldiers and equipment from 42 different units across the Commonwealth to form the largest battalion task force the Virginia National Guard has mobilized in support of the Global War on Terror. The battalion numbered nearly 800 Soldiers when the embarked upon their mission.

The battalion's deployment was also the first time a Virginia National Guard rifle battalion ever deployed from Virginia with the new organizational structure of the Army’s new modular brigade system.

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