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NEWS | Dec. 15, 2011

Task Force Punisher Soldiers return to Virginia from Iraq

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

Approximately 210 Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from the Sandston-based 2nd Assault Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command returned to Virginia Dec. 10, 2011, after serving in Iraq since April 2011. The Soldiers arrived in two separate flights on Saturday, and were welcomed home by senior leaders of the Virginia National Guard and reunited with their families and friends at the Virginia National Guard Aviation Support Facility in Sandston.

“Welcome home heroes! We are delighted to have you back,” exclaimed Governor Bob McDonnell. “I was looking at what you men and women of the 2nd of the 224th have accomplished. Over 16,000 flight hours, 1800 missions, 30,000 passengers transported all over the theater and with that, no fatalities and no serious injuries and missions always accomplished.

“What a tremendous job you have done over these last 10 months in service to the United States of America. Thank you.”

During the two back-to-back ceremonies held at the air facility in Sandston, the governor consistently thanked the families of the Soldiers for the dedication and support, which he noted would not have been possible without them.

“I want to say to all of you families; you are owed an amazing debt of gratitude. The fact that you have sent off your husbands, your wives, your brothers, your sisters, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters, and now you are here today to welcome them back just 15 days before Christmas is really amazing,” said McDonnell.

“The only way these men and women have done such a fantastic job is because you have done such a great job here at home.”

The Soldiers were the main body of about 325 total Soldiers from the unit returning to Virginia. They returned to the United States Dec. 3 and 4 and conducted a number of different administrative and reintegration demobilization activities at Fort Hood, Texas to transition from active duty back to traditional National Guard status prior to returning to Virginia. The Soldiers officially began federal active duty Feb. 25.

“Punishers, you stepped into a non-standard environment, nothing about this deployment was standard, and we succeeded above all expectations and closed the door to Iraq,” said Maj. Carl Engstrom, executive officer of the 224th. “I appreciate all your efforts.”

The approximately 50 remaining Soldiers from the battalion are still conducting missions in Iraq and Kuwait are scheduled to return later this month, but their exact return date has not been finalized.

These Soldiers are part of a group of approximately 1,100 Virginia National Guard Soldiers scheduled to return from Iraq in December, and about 260 Soldiers and Airmen will continue to serve on federal active duty in Afghanistan and other locations across the world.

The battalion, also known as "Task Force Punisher," mobilized more than 400 Virginia and Maryland Army National Guard Soldiers for duty in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn Feb. 25, 2011, with the mission of conducting air assault and combat support aviation operations in order to facilitate combat, peacekeeping and sustainment efforts to build a secure and stable environment in conjunction with the Iraqi National Government. The task force consists of the headquarters company, three assault helicopter companies, the aviation maintenance company, the forward support company and one attached aero-medical helicopter company totaling more than 520 Soldiers, 30 UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters and 12 HH-60M medical evacuation helicopters.
The Punishers were one of the last three U.S. military aviation assets to depart Iraq. They flew more that 16,500 combat flight hours during more than 1,800 combat missions while performing split-based operations from seven different locations. The battalion executed an average of 15 missions per day and flew more than 30,000 passengers, and they planned and executed multiple direct action air assault missions that were instrumental in reducing the number of attacks on United States forces.

The battalion had no Soldiers killed in action or seriously wounded in action.

They conducted effective and responsive air assault and air movement aviation operations in order to provide freedom of movement for ground commanders throughout Iraq interdict weapons smuggling operations and facilitate security operations and sustainment efforts for United States forces.

The battalion’s forward support company provided Forward Arming and Refueling Point support to the battalion’s aircraft, as well as multiple other aircraft from a myriad of units.  Typically fueling more than forty aircraft per day, they issued more than a million gallons of aircraft fuel during the combat deployment.

While headquartered in Sandston, the battalion is comprised of Soldiers from all over the state. Approximately 110 Soldiers are from the Richmond and Petersburg area, about 50 are from the Hampton Roads area, approximately 15 are from the Charlottesville and Central Virginia area, about 25 are from the Northern Virginia area, approximately 15 are from the Fredericksburg and Stafford County area and the other Soldiers are from various locations across the state. Approximately 75 are from the Maryland National Guard. Their medical evacuation company was from the Florida and Georgia Army National Guard.

The battalion last mobilized for federal active duty in Iraq from January 2006 to February 2007.

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