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NEWS | Dec. 13, 2021

Thunder Soldiers gather for regimental muster, honor Saint Barbara’s Day

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia National Guard Field Artillery Soldiers past and present gathered for the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment’s annual Regimental Muster and Saint Barbara’s Day celebration Dec. 11, 2021, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. As part of the festivities, deserving individuals received the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara, the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara and the Artillery Order of Molly Pitcher, and the battalion’s top battery was recognized.  

The Norfolk-based Bravo Battery was presented with the “Best Battery” streamer for their guidon. The streamer is awarded to the unit which demonstrates excellence throughout the training year in areas such as retention, weapons qualification, physical fitness, drill attendance, tactical proficiency and overall operations.

Before the Order presentations, Lt. Col. Donald Bailey, the commander of the 1st Battalion, spoke about the unit accomplishments in 2021 and their upcoming federal active duty mobilization. 

Bailey explained how the battalion will mark the official start of their federal active duty mobilization with a ceremony Dec. 13 in Norfolk. The battalion will deploy as Task Force Thunder and assume control of Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar, or C-RAM, operations and operational control of selected Avenger Air Defense elements to protect critical assets throughout the Middle East. Upon arrival in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, the task force will conduct a transfer of authority ceremony with fellow “Redlegs” from the 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment of the Massachusetts National Guard. 

Bailey said the overseas deployment will be the first behind the battalion’s colors since 1942. 

Highlights from 2021 included supporting security operations for the 54th Presidential Inauguration in January, the largest domestic response by the battalion since Operation Noble Eagle following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Bailey said.

He said after supporting civilian law enforcement in Washington, D.C., the battalion initiated an intensive program of individual and crew-level field artillery training culminating in early August at Fort Pickett.

“Howitzer crews of Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Batteries, directed by the battalion and battery fire direction centers, oriented by detachments of fire support specialists and tracked by the target acquisition platoon of the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, completed a section-level artillery gunnery live-fire exercise for the first time since August 2019,” Bailey said.

The battalion conducted pre-mobilization training at Fort A.P. Hill in early December to accomplish critical tasks required for the deployment including weapons qualification, tactical combat casualty care, countering improvised explosive devices and individual Soldier equipment fielding.

Bailey said all tasks were accomplished “without fail,” and described the training as a “truly impressive performance” that has become a standard of the unit with the motto “never unprepared.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Keith Keller, who served more than 32 years in the Army National Guard as a field artillery officer, was the keynote speaker for the evening. He served as the director of the joint staff for the Arkansas National Guard and then was selected as the deputy adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard. His final assignment was the deputy commanding general of the Field Artillery Center of Excellence and Fort Sill.  

Keller discussed the reemergence of field artillery across the U.S. Army, and stressed the importance of 1st Battalion’s history as they prepare for their upcoming mobilization.

Retired Col. Preston Scott, a former 1st Battalion commander, awarded with the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara to retired Col. Fred C. Bolton, retired command Sgt. Maj. Clifton C. White and Col. Todd H. Hubbard.

According to the Field Artillery Association, the Ancient Order is reserved for an elite few whose long-term dedication to the Field Artillery has embodied the spirit, dignity and sense of sacrifice and commitment epitomized by Saint Barbara.  It recognizes the select few who stand above their brethren of the Honorable Order in terms of conspicuous, life time service for or on behalf of the United States Army Field Artillery or Marine Corps Field Artillery.  The Ancient Order is the more distinguished of the two levels of the Order of Saint Barbara. 

Bailey awarded the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara to Capt. Matthew P. Anna, Capt. Sean M. Hoefke, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey S. Hinson and Staff Sgt. Joseph M. Boston.

According to the Field Artillery Association, the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara recognizes those individuals who have demonstrated the highest standards of integrity and moral character; displayed an outstanding degree of professional competence; served the United States Army or Marine Corps Field Artillery with selflessness; and contributed to the promotion of the Field Artillery in ways that stand out in the eyes of the recipient’s seniors, subordinates and peers alike. 

The battalion leadership also recognized Heather Fitch, Mary Fortner and Connie Perry with the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher.

According to the Field Artillery Association, the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher recognizes the voluntary efforts of individuals who have contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the field artillery community. All spouses, military personnel and civilians are eligible for the order. 

VNG Soldiers assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial and festive music for the occasion. 

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