CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti –
U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), hosted a D-Day commemoration ceremony and ruck march June 6, 2022, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, to remember the sacrifices of Allied forces during the storming of the Normandy beachhead during World War II.
Task Force Red Dragon is made up primarily of the 116th Infantry Regiment, which has a long-standing and honored place in U.S. military history, fighting in every major war since the American Revolution. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, those same men comprised the spearhead of the 29th Infantry Division’s force that stormed Omaha Beach. The 116th Infantry Regiment accounted for 79 percent of the 29th Division’s casualties and approximately one-fifth of all American casualties that day.
More than 1,000 members of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division were killed, wounded, or missing in action during the assault on Omaha Beach, but their courage and bravery helped create a foothold that allowed follow-on forces to continue the assault and set the stage for Allied victory in Europe.
This year marks the 78th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. During the commemoration ceremony, Maj. Nick Roland, executive officer for Task Force Red Dragon, conducted the opening remarks and gave a brief history of the 116th’s role in the D-Day landings. Lt. Col. Jim Tierney, Task Force Red Dragon commander, shared his own remarks on the importance of remembering the historic date, its significance to the Virginia Army National Guardsmen, and spoke of the familiarity of the names and the homes of those men who stormed Fortress Europe.
“They hailed from the same locations across Virginia and Maryland,” he said. “Roanoke, Bedford, Christiansburg, Charlottesville and Lynchburg. They trained at some of the same locations that we trained, during our pre-deployment train-up.”
French resistance fighters conducted more than 1,000 acts of sabotage between June 5 and 6 and made countless intelligence reports that helped to shape the success of the allied invasion of Normandy, according to Tierney.
“Operation Overlord is the staunchest of reminders that joint and allied warfare, though challenging and complex, is critical to achieving our shared objectives,” Tierney said. “Words spoken here today will never accurately reflect the sacrifices and heroic actions conducted by those brave Soldiers who fought on ‘Bloody Omaha’. I ask each of you to reflect on those who fought through hell on June 6, 1944, and commit to remembering their sacrifices today, and every day.”
The audience of the day highlighted the significance of partnerships, such as the Allied forces fighting alongside each other on D-Day and the partnerships that have blossomed since the end of World War II. Both French Forces in Djibouti (FFDJ) and Japan Self-Defense Forces stationed in Djibouti attended the ceremony, a subtle hint of the power of partnership. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from units throughout Camp Lemonnier were also in attendance.
“It’s fitting to see representatives from all services and our allies here today in Africa,” Tierney said. “We are honored and humbled by your presence.”
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Ashwell and Spc. Nathan Molicki, both serving with 1-116th HHC, Task Force Red Dragon, and Lt. Col. Wilbur Oles, commanding officer of Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 163, USMC, had family members who served on D-Day and were recognized during the ceremony.
Ashwell, whose great uncle died serving in D Company 1-116th on Omaha Beach, played Taps after a moment of silence.
“For the last eight years, I have played Taps on June 6th to honor not only my great uncle but all the men that he served with,” Ashwell said. “...this moment with the Task Force and the 116th is extremely meaningful to me. I believe that this event is the best way that we can honor their memory while deployed to Africa.”
After the conclusion of the ceremony, the attendees donned their rucksacks and walked 3.3 miles in commemoration of the Allied Forces Normandy invasion.
Task Force Red Dragon has more than 1,000 Virginia, Kentucky and Tennesse National Guard Soldiers stationed on Camp Lemonnier and forward-deployed outstations throughout East Africa, all in support of CJTF-HOA.