Washington Guardsmen hand over reins - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Washington Guardsmen hand over reins

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Lt. Col. Gregory J. Allen, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment and Command Sgt. Maj. David Windom, both of Spokane, Wash., encase their unit’s colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Joint Base Balad, Iraq July 29. Lt. Col. Gregory J. Allen, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment and Command Sgt. Maj. David Windom, both of Spokane, Wash., encase their unit’s colors during a transfer of authority ceremony at Joint Base Balad, Iraq July 29.

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq. - Washington Guardsmen cased their colors and handed over their mission to an Army National Guard unit from Mississippi during a transfer of authority ceremony here July 29.

Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment (Washington Army National Guard) escorted supply convoys around Iraq, traveling over 1.7 million miles since arriving Oct. 2008. During 1,800 convoy missions, the unit ensured the safe delivery of 110 million gallons of fuel, 600,000 tons of supplies and 120 million gallons of water while supporting the 3d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) logistics mission in Iraq.

"It was a complete honor to serve with some of the fi nest junior officers, NCOs and junior enlisted that the Army has to offer," said Lt. Col. Gregory J. Allen, commanding officer, 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt. Allen, a Spokane, Wash. native, said the escort mission, especially for infantrymen, was a difficult adjustment to make at first.

Most of the Soldiers were unfamiliar with convoy operations or the Army's new Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected vehicle. However, his Soldiers quickly realized the importance of the mission, trained and made it their own, he said.

Allen, who commanded a special forces company during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, said security has improved considerably across the country. Even in the 10 months of their deployment, which saw the withdrawal of Coalition forces from cities, Allen said things changed for the better with Iraqi police manning more checkpoints and more people
out on the roads.

According to figures released by Multi-National Forces-Iraq, nationwide, attacks are at their lowest levels since August 2003, and the weekly average is 70 percent lower than it was last year.

"When we first got here, it was just us and the Stryker (brigade combat teams) out on the road at night," Allen said.

The situation was still dangerous at times, he cautioned. The Washington Guardsmen were attacked more than 50 times by small arms fire, rockets or roadside bombs, and 14 Purple Hearts were awarded for Soldiers wounded by enemy action.

Lt. Col. Norman B. Green, commanding officer, 304th Sustainment Brigade, praised the Washington Guardsmen for their professionalism and proven ability under fire.

"Your accomplishments and service to the nation is commendable," Green said.

Although a National Guard unit attached to an Army Reserve sustainment brigade, which in turn fell under the command of an active duty Corps-level headquarters, Green said everyone seemed to work well together.

"Once we arrived in theater, we really didn't see a lot of differences in mentality between Guard, Reserve or Active Duty," Allen said. "It truly is one Army."

The Washington Guardsmen were relieved and replaced by 1st Bn., 155th Inf. Regt. of the Mississippi Army National Guard.

This is the 1st Bn., 161st Inf. Regt.'s second tour of duty in Iraq. In 2004, the unit provided security for the Green Zone, as well as conducted combat operations and civil affairs reconstruction projects in southeast Baghdad.

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