VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 576th Engineer Utilities Detachment, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, returned to Virginia Feb. 10, 2023, after serving on federal active duty in Southwest Asia since May 2022. After conducting demobilization activities at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Soldiers flew into Norfolk and then reunited with loved ones at the VNG's State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach.
"The Soldiers of the 576th EUD proved during this deployment that they were truly masters of their craft," said Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Howard, the 576th detachment sergeant. "Our Soldiers were able to operate in multiple countries in support of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve. They showed that they were able to adapt to austere environments, with limited equipment and material, to accomplish the mission."
During the deployment, about 55 Soldiers assigned to the 576th supported U.S. Central Command's Operation Spartan Shield where they completed vital infrastructure projects and made significant improvements to U.S. and partner nation's physical security through the creation of traffic control points, gates, bunkers, guard towers and battle positions in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The unit operated in decentralized squads and teams and influenced multiple top ten priority engineering projects for U.S. Army Central.
"The massive success of these engineers proves the theory about squad-level proficiency," said Capt. Shane McNamara, commander of the 576th. "Decentralized squads operating autonomously across the Middle East under outstanding NCO leadership with such professionalism they improved the reputation of the Corps of Engineers."
"The 576th Engineer Utility Detachment enabled the Theater Engineer Battalion and Brigade to revolutionize the employment of engineer assets and resources in theater," said Lt. Col. James Hill, 363rd Engineer Battalion commander. "The 576th EUD's brilliant display of technical and tactical competence, while executing protection construction missions in the Eastern Syrian Security Area, created an inviting environment for subsequent engineer forces employed across seven countries in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Spartan Shield.”
Soldiers of the 576th established relationships with multiple base and maneuver commanders in the region and these relationships allowed the engineer battalion commander to position engineer forces across the Middle East.
"The 576th Engineer Utility Detachment truly embodied the definition of 'tip of the spear,'" Hill said. "It has been an honor to command a unit that believes 'greatness is their endgame.'"
They completed 113 named projects and hundreds of work orders over 24,000 hours of labor, including more than 3,000 hours of vehicle operations without a reportable accident. The detachment fostered relationships with partner nations; revamped movement with roads, helipads, and runways; enhanced protection with guard towers and barriers; bolstered sustainment with sanitary and water system projects; synergized intelligence by erecting surveillance assets and fabricating operations centers; enabled strategic fires assets with electrical and security repairs; and empowered mission command at the engineer company commander level.
"Our Soldiers maintained a high level of discipline and operability to change the ways to at Engineer forces were used throughout ARCENT," Howard said. "It has been my privilege to give guidance and direction to our Soldiers and NCOs to ensure they were able to execute the mission and improve upon the standard."
This was the first overseas mobilization for the 576th, which was stood up in 2017. The unit moved from Onancock to Virginia Beach in 2019.
It provides facilities engineering support in the areas of carpentry, masonry, electrical, plumbing and road maintenance and repair. The detachment includes a headquarters section, an operations section, three identical utility sections and an engineer equipment section. Each utility section is led by an E-6 and contains all of the vertical MOSs.
While the Soldiers of the 576th are happy to be home and reunited with their families, they viewed the deployment as a valuable experience.
"Through this deployment, I have gotten the chance to expand my carpentry knowledge, work on my mental strengths and weaknesses, and have been given chances for leadership experience," added Spc. Gabriel Kauffman.
"This deployment has been a learning experience for me,” said Sgt. Bobby Mullen. “I learned so much about operations and construction management that will help me in both my civilian and military career.”
"I've saved a good amount of money, gained more confidence in myself, and have set myself up for success,” said Spc. Maverick Beard. “I am grateful for my fellow Soldiers and am so ready to return to my civilian life."
"This deployment has given me the opportunity and experience to mold young Soldiers and NCOs into leaders,” Howard said. “The lessons that our troops, and myself, have learned over the last year will help us succeed in our military and professional lives.”
With the return of the 576th, no Virginia National Guard units are currently mobilized overseas.
Over the past two years, more than 2,000 Virginia National Guard personnel have mobilized on federal active duty overseas, the most since 2007.
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. In addition, VNG Airmen supported a short-notice air superiority support in the United Arab Emirates.
Since Sept. 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.