NEWS | Jan. 12, 2022

VNG brigade HQs, aviation battalion begin mission to Kosovo

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

The Virginia National Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters officially began federal active duty Jan. 5, 2022, to take responsibility for the NATO-led Kosovo Force Regional Command-East, and the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division started their mobilization as their aviation task force Jan. 2. NATO KFOR troops conduct peace support operations contributing to a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo while healthy political dialogue continues between Kosovo and Serbia.

Families, friends and fellow Soldiers along with federal and state elected officials and senior National Guard military leaders sent off the units at deployment ceremonies in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the 116th and in Sandston for the 2-224th. 

“Make no mistake about what you are about to do,” said Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, at the departure ceremony in Sandston. “We call them peace support operations as if peace were a steady state, but peace is a choice, and every day there are countless variables that could tip the balance of peace and prosperity.”

Hokanson said there is often talk about how the National Guard exists to fight our nation’s wars, but the flip side of that is the National Guard also stops the erosion of peace. 

“We stand up to those who would threaten it, and in doing so, you make the world safer and our nation more secure,” he said. “What you are about to do is what you do every day in the National Guard, is something truly remarkable. You step away from the jobs you work hard to perform, you step away from the home that you know and the family you love more than anything, you step away because you made a promise to America to be 'Always Ready, Always There.' Today you are keeping that promise, and I am honored to be on the same team as you.”

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, told Soldiers at both ceremonies that as an element of the 29th Infantry Division, they are part of one of the most famous and well-known divisions in the U.S. Army. He explained how the unit insignia serves as a symbol of reunification, liberation, security and freedom.

“The patch that you wear is a visceral reminder of the hard-won victories and can be used as a lens to view our history from WWI to WWII, to the Balkans as well as Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan,” Williams said.  “While we look at our forebears of WWII 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,” Williams said. “It’s now your mission to carry the torch of liberty.”  

Col. Christopher J. Samulski, commander of the 116th IBCT, reflected on the high operational tempo of the brigade over the last year and the large number of personnel currently deployed during the ceremony in Harrisonburg.

“My confidence in this unit and its Soldiers  couldn’t be higher,” Samulski said “The officers, NCOs and Soldiers of this brigade have demonstrated, 
all throughout 2021,  that they are prepared to  meet any mission we are assigned. I can’t thank  them  enough for the professionalism, dedication, sacrifice and loyalty to this commonwealth and nation. I know that they will continue to uphold the legacy and honors of this storied unit.”

Lt. Col. Craig Lewis, commander of 2-224th, credited the battalion with establishing a culture of excellence that will leave a mark on the unit’s long legacy.

“Our success has not come from hoping or wishing for success,” Lewis said. “It has come from a commitment to excellence and a mindset of perpetual optimism. The collective effort has been one task at a time with an aim towards perfection, and despite the various challenges and obstacles inherent to military operations, you have persevered as a highly-motivated team. The fruits of your dedication and attitude have established a habit and culture of excellence.”

All of the leaders extended their thanks to the families for their service and sacrifice.

“Tomorrow we will focus on serving our nation and NATO, while you continue to support your family in the continuous endeavor of life  consisting of work, school, birthdays, holidays, doctor’s visits, sports and other family milestones,” Samulski said. “Life does not stop for  deployments. Each of you will shoulder these tasks with one less person on the team. In many ways, this is the quiet sacrifice that occurs for this nation that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  I know the true value of this 
sacrifice. You are not alone.” 

He stressed the commonwealth and U.S. Army are there to support families, and communication is the key.

“Your friends and coworkers may not understand, but the volunteers of the Family Readiness Group and Virginia Family Readiness Programs are experienced and here to support you,” Samulski said. “I implore you to talk to these wonderful volunteers and professionals.  We are all in this together, and without you this unit wouldn’t be able to succeed.”  

As the aviation task force for RC-E, 2-224th will provide medical casualty transportation and air mobility for all KFOR troops.

Other RC-E units include a maneuver battalion capable of rapidly deploying throughout RC-E area of responsibility to guarantee a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement and an effects battalion maintaining situational awareness with local authorities and non-government organizations for monitoring and early identification of security, socio-economic and political situations.
 
Each unit supports the safety, security and freedom of movement for all the communities in Kosovo in accordance with KFOR's mandate as per United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. Troops from the U.S., Poland, Latvia, Switzerland, Turkey, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary and Italy serve in RC-E.

It will be the 30th rotation of U.S. military forces based at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

This is the third federal active duty mobilization for the 116th IBCT Headquarters since Sept. 11, 2001.  Read the AG’s 116th IBCT mobilization announcement: at ttps://go.usa.gov/xFtn2.  

This will be the fourth federal active duty mobilization for 2-224th, and the medical evacuation detachment previously served in Kosovo from January to November 2018. Read the AG’s 2-224th mobilization announcement at https://go.usa.gov/xFtnb.

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