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NEWS | Nov. 27, 2021

Va. National Guard task force begins federal active duty for security mission in Africa

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

View photos of the ceremony on Flickr: View and download a video of the casing of the colors on Flickr: View photos on Facebook:

BEDFORD, Va. -- State and federal elected officials and senior military leaders joined families, friends and fellow Soldiers to mark the official start of federal active duty for more than 1,000 Virginia and Kentucky Army National Guard Soldiers Nov. 27, 2021, at departure ceremonies in Bedford, Virginia, and Lexington, Kentucky. Virginia units from Bedford, Charlottesville, Lexington, Pulaski and Suffolk and a Kentucky unit from Somerset, Kentucky, are mobilizing as Task Force Red Dragon under the command of the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, to provide a security force in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. It is the largest VNG single-unit mobilization since World War II. “I am so proud to have served as your commander in chief,” said Governor Ralph Northam at the departure ceremony held at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. “On behalf of a grateful Commonwealth of Virginia, I say thank you.” Northam encouraged the Soldiers to give a round of applause for all the family and loved ones surrounding their formation at the D-Day Memorial to say thanks for their continued support and acknowledged them as one of the most important parts of the operation. “I have a simple ask of all of you,” Northam said. “That is to serve this commonwealth and serve this country proudly. I know you will. I ask you all to take care of each other. I have been in your shoes, and it is so important it is to take care of your fellow Soldiers. Serve us proudly, but come home safely. That’s what we want for all of you.” Lt. Col. James P. Tierney, commander of Task Force Red Dragon, and Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Wolfe, the task force command sergeant major, cased the 1st Battalion organizational colors during the ceremony. The cased colors will be transported overseas and uncased when the task force begins their mission in Africa. The National D-Day Memorial was chosen as the site of the departure ceremony because of the 116th Infantry Regiment's connection to the memorial honoring those who fought and died in one of the most significant battles in United State's history. When the 116th was activated as part of the 29th Infantry Division on Feb. 3, 1941, many Virginia communities provided Soldiers to serve in the division, and Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. During the assault on Omaha Beach, 19 of the "Bedford Boys" of Company A died. Bedford's population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation's most severe D-Day loss. Recognizing that Bedford represented both large and small communities whose citizen-Soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, reminded the Soldiers of Task Force Red Dragon they are part of one of the most famous and well-known units in the U.S. Army. “It’s important to recognize that you are a great and storied unit in our Army,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “You’re well trained and well led, and we have every confidence that you will be very successful in your deployment to the African continent.” He shared perspectives about the history of the 29th Infantry Division based on a recent personal visit to Normandy, France. During the trip he shared time with the mayors of Saint Jean de Savigny and St Mere-Eglise, two locations where 29th ID Soldiers are remembered to this day for helping liberate the towns from Nazi tyranny. “The actions of your forebears in June of 1944 are as important today as they were 77 years ago,” he said. “When the mayors think of the 29th Infantry Division they think of liberation. Your patch is a visceral reminder of the hard-won victories and can be used as a lens to view our history from World War I to World War II to the Balkans as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.” Williams asked the Soldiers to think for a few moments about that historical connection and take note of the impact that “29’ers” have had across time and now in their upcoming mission. “While we refer to our World War II veterans as the ‘Greatest Generation,’ I would argue that your generation has faced a different set of challenges and set an example of greatness for the future to honor in the way we remember the brave men and women who liberated Europe and secured victory in the Pacific. It’s now your mission to carry the torch of liberty.” Williams recognized families and employers as two key groups supporting the Soldiers, and he stressed that unit and state family readiness groups are available to assist if needed. Tierney told his Soldiers the departure ceremony was a reminder they are part of something larger than themselves. He touched on the unit’s history from Allied invasion of Normandy, through mobilizations in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as supporting local, state and federal authorities in Virginia, and the significance of the ceremony being held at the National D-Day Memorial. “The sacrifices of the 29th Infantry Division and 116th Infantry Regiment on Omaha Beach are represented so strongly here at this memorial,” Tierney said. “Those Soldiers wrote one of the most honored chapters in history by securing the beachhead in France. These were ordinary Virginia Guardsmen who stayed true to the values of personal responsibility, duty and honor. Their sacrifice ensured the freedoms our Republic has held dear for more than 240 years.” He said now it is time for the Red Dragons to write the next chapter after working over the last year to come together as the largest task force the Virginia National Guard has deployed since World War II. He said his guidance was to maintain the same values of personal responsibility, duty and honor as the Soldiers who served on D-Day. “Execute all missions, no matter how complex or trivial, knowing that you represent those who went before you,” Tierney said. “Maintain the disciplined and aggressive ethos we’ve developed to date. Be the Soldier everyone wants in his or her squad. Be the steadfast NCO that in times of need, all look to for guidance. Be the leader Soldiers want to be lead by. Do that, and we will return to Virginia to celebrate our accomplishments.” Tierney echoed Williams’ thanks to employers, families and loved ones. “To our employers, thank you for your continued support while your Soldier defends the Commonwealth and the Nation,” he said. “To our families and loved ones, thank you for everything you’ve done and will do for your Soldier. Without your love and support, we could not answer the nation’s call. Turn to each other now for strength, but know that you will always, always be in our hearts.” Williams and Tierney both thanked the staff of the National D-Day Memorial for all their hard work to host the ceremony, as well as recognize the Virginia Defense Force and state and local law enforcement and Bedford County for helping with the departure ceremony. The Soldiers will report to Fort Bliss, Texas, for approximately 30 to 45 days of additional mobilization training before heading overseas. They spent the last three weeks conducting pre-mobilization training at Fort Pickett. View select photos from the training at The Soldiers join the VNG's Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division and Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group already serving on federal active duty in the Middle East, and additional units will mobilize in the coming months. By January 2022, more than 2,000 VNG personnel will be mobilized , the most since the Iraq surge in 2007. When you add in National Guard Soldiers from Maryland and Kentucky serving in the 29th Infantry Division, it is the most Soldiers the division has mobilized since 1942. The task force reports to Maj. Gen. William L. Zana, commander of CJTF-HOA. Zana, a Virginia National Guard Soldier, recently assumed command from Maj. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora, also a Virginia National Guard Soldier. The battalion is trained and equipped to accomplish a wide range of missions throughout the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility, but its primary objective is to provide security for the various forward operating bases maintained by the Department of Defense to build partnerships with host nations and improve safety and stability in the region. This will be the battalion's fourth federal active duty mobilization since Sept. 11, 2001, and the largest single unit VNG mobilization since World War II. Approximately 825 Soldiers assigned to Task Force 183 deployed to Iraq in 2011, and about 775 Soldiers from the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment  deployed to Iraq from September 2007 to April 2008. Soldiers from 1st Battalion last served on federal active duty from May 2016 to March 2017 with the mission of conducting security operations in Qatar. As part of their security mission, Soldiers searched more than 100,000 vehicles and 303,000 individuals, and they conducted more than 900 security patrols. The battalion served on federal active duty from March to August 2010 where they operated out of Contingency Operating Base Adder in Southern Iraq. Their mission was to secure resupply convoys along the main supply routes in the central, southern and northern sectors of Iraq in order to prevent anti-Iraqi Forces from disrupting theater sustainment operations. The battalion mobilized for the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo from December 2006 to November 2007 where they were one of two maneuver task forces conducting regular patrols, vehicle checkpoints and humanitarian assistance activities. They conducted nearly 6,200 patrols, more than 650 vehicle check points and more than 1,000 sphere of influence engagements. The battalion received the Walter T. Kerwin Jr., Readiness Award recognizing them as the most combat-ready Army National Guard battalion in the country by the Association of the United States Army in 2013 and 2017. The following Virginia and Kentucky Army National Guard units are mobilizing as Task Force Red Dragon: - Lynchburg-based Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Bedford-based Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Lexington-based Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Pulaski-based Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Lynchburg-based Golf Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Suffolk-based Bravo Troop, 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - Charlottesville-based Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - The Kentucky Army National Guard’s Somerset, Kentucky-based Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team

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