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Lynchburg National Guard ordered to active duty

The Virginia National Guard’s Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team has received a mobilization order to enter federal active duty to provide a security force in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, according to an announcement made July 29, by Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia.

Approximately 1,000 soldiers will mobilize as Task Force Red Dragon under 1st Battalion’s Headquarters with Virginia Army National Guard units from Bedford, Charlottesville, Lexington, Pulaski and Suffolk and a Kentucky Army National Guard unit from Somerset, Kentucky, and they will begin serving on federal active duty in late fall 2021 for approximately 12 months.

The battalion is trained and equipped to accomplish a wide range of missions throughout the U.S. Africa command area of responsibility, but its primary objective is to provide security for the various forward operating bases maintained by the Department of Defense to build partnerships with host nations and improve safety and stability in the region. The task force reports to Maj. Gen. William L. Zana, commander of CJTF-HOA. Zana, a Virginia National Guard Soldier, recently assumed command from Maj. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora, also a Virginia National Guard Soldier.

“Once again the soldiers of 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment are answering our nation’s call to deploy overseas, and I am confident they will be very successful in their mission,” Williams said. “They are one of our most deployed battalions in the last 20 years, and they carry the rich traditions of the 29th Infantry Division’s World War I and World War II service with them today. They are highly-motivated and well-trained soldiers led by experienced officers and noncommissioned officers, so they are ready to take on the toughest challenges. I also want to express our sincere appreciation to their families and employers for their support over the last 18 months and for the road ahead. We can’t do our mission without them.”

Williams said the Virginia National Guard is on pace to mobilize the most soldiers and airmen since 2007, and the 29th Infantry Division will mobilize the most soldiers since World War II with troops deploying from units in Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky. Approximately 330 Virginia National Guard soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division are currently on federal active duty, and approximately 80 soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group are scheduled for mobilization in fall 2021.

In 2007, about 2,300 VNG personnel were serving in support of Operation Iraq Freedom and peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Nearly 700 soldiers mobilized for support to OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2008.

Soldiers will conduct training at Fort Pickett for about two weeks in August to accomplish a number of administrative and field training tasks to prepare for the mobilization including weapons qualification, equipment issue and medical evaluation. In the fall, they will report to Fort Bliss, Texas, for approximately 30 to 45 days of additional mobilization training before heading overseas.

“Our soldiers are ready to deploy,” Lt. Col. James Tierney, commander of 1st Battalion, said. “Our high operational tempo over the last 18 months protecting and assisting our fellow Virginians has increased our readiness and built adaptive and agile soldiers who will be ready for almost any requirement in our federal mission. We supported state and local law enforcement during civil disturbances in May and June 2020, supported testing and vaccinations during the statewide COVID-19 pandemic response, helped evacuate citizens to safety during flooding in Southwest Virginia and most recently supported civilian law enforcement in Washington D.C. before, during and after the presidential inauguration.”

Tierney also acknowledged the important role of families and employers.

“It is never easy for our soldiers to put their lives on hold, but we do it as part of our commitment as National Guard soldiers,” he said. “We owe a very special thanks to our families and employers for their tremendous support and sacrifice during our deployments which is so critical to our success.”

This will be the battalion’s fourth federal active duty mobilization since Sept. 11, 2001, and the largest single unit VNG mobilization since World War II. Approximately 825 soldiers assigned to Task Force 183 deployed to Iraq in 2011, and about 775 soldiers from the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment deployed to Iraq from September 2007 to April 2008.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion last served on federal active duty from May 2016 to March 2017 with the mission of conducting security operations in Qatar. As part of their security mission, soldiers searched more than 100,000 vehicles and 303,000 individuals, and they conducted more than 900 security patrols.

The battalion served on federal active duty from March to August 2010 where they operated out of Contingency Operating Base Adder in Southern Iraq. Their mission was to secure resupply convoys along the main supply routes in the central, southern and northern sectors of Iraq in order to prevent anti-Iraqi Forces from disrupting theater sustainment operations.

The battalion mobilized for the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo from December 2006 to November 2007 where they were one of two maneuver task forces conducting regular patrols, vehicle checkpoints and humanitarian assistance activities. They conducted nearly 6,200 patrols, more than 650 vehicle checkpoints and more than 1,000 sphere of influence engagements.

The battalion received the Walter T. Kerwin, Jr., Readiness Award recognizing them as the most combat-ready Army National Guard battalion in the country by the Association of the United States Army in 2013 and 2017.