AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq –
Virginia and Ohio National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, conducted a transfer of authority ceremony Nov. 12, 2022, at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, to officially end their short-range air defense mission for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. Soldiers assigned to the Indiana Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 163rd Field Artillery Regiment, known as the Redhawk Battalion, assumed responsibility for the mission.
Lt. Col. Donald Bailey and Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda Williams, the 1-111th FAR command team, cased the battalion’s colors, signifying the end of its nine-month deployment.
“The deployment of the Saint Lo Thunder Battalion has been a remarkable achievement,” Bailey said. The nation, the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Army depended on you to succeed. You rose to this challenge while performing duties outside your standing mission in the field artillery, and you exceeded expectations.”
While deployed, approximately 330 Soldiers were tasked to provide short-range air defense against unmanned aerial systems and rocket artillery and motor attacks, protecting more than 10,000 coalition forces and critical assets throughout the Central Command area of operations in the Middle East using the Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar System, or C-RAM.
The C-RAM was developed to defend against and defeat enduring Indirect fire threats. C-RAM capable units identify, intercept and destroy those threats mid-flight. Before departing from CONUS, the Saint Lo Thunder Battalion successfully completed U.S. Forces Command theater-specific individual readiness training requirements, C-RAM new equipment training, and requisite crew qualification standards at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“You fought this mission and won," Bailey said. "Deployed at a time of evolving threats from increasingly capable armed drones and indirect fires, you over-matched the enemy every step of the way. Today’s ceremony marks a milestone moment in the lifespan of this critically important force protection mission in the Middle East.”
Throughout the deployment, the 1-111th successfully engaged two UAS systems and multiple rockets with kinetic defeat systems and more than two dozen UAS systems with non-kinetic systems. They were also responsible for upgrading and expanding counter UAS operational capabilities.
At the end of the ceremony, Col. Marc Pelini, the commander of Task Force Top Notch, welcomed 1-163rd and wished them great success as they took over the mission in various locations across OIR. He also expressed gratitude to the Saint Lo Thunder Battalion Soldiers and their many noteworthy accomplishments during the deployment.
Task Force Top Notch is an air defense artillery brigade enabling integrated air and missile defense and providing the strategic and tactical protection needed to deter aggression and assure allies and partners in the Middle East.
“You were the right unit at the right time and are representative of the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers who’ve served here in Iraq honorably and courageously in defense of both Iraq and the United States,” Pelini said. “It is a testament of the leadership from the battalion to squad level have executed on a day to day basis.”
Task Force Top Notch’s mission is to remain ready with credible force to provide critical air defense capabilities to the CENTCOM combatant commander.
Over the last year, more than 2,000 Virginia National Guard personnel have mobilized on federal active duty overseas, the most since 2007. Almost all the units are back now, and the VNG has about 50 Soldiers assigned to the 576th Engineer Utilities detachment serving in Kuwait. They will return in Spring 2023.
VNG Soldiers provided mission command for multi-national forces in Kuwait, a security response force in the Horn of Africa, air defense site security in Iraq and conducted NATO peace support operations in Kosovo. VNG Airmen supported a short-notice air superiority support in the United Arab Emirates.
Since September 11, 2001, more than 18,500 VNG Soldiers and Airmen have mobilized across the globe and here in the United States for homeland security missions.