Battalion says goodbye to Iraq

Written by Pat Caldwell for The Observer August 30, 2011 06:56 pm

Command Sgt. Major Bill Wyllie (left), John Day, the senior enlisted adviser for the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, holds the regimental guidon of the 3rd Battalion while Lt. Col. Phil Appleton, Silverton, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, unfurls the unitís battle streamers during a transfer of authority ceremony at Joint Base Balad Aug. 25.  PAT CALDWELL photo
Command Sgt. Major Bill Wyllie (left), John Day, the senior enlisted adviser for the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, holds the regimental guidon of the 3rd Battalion while Lt. Col. Phil Appleton, Silverton, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, unfurls the unitís battle streamers during a transfer of authority ceremony at Joint Base Balad Aug. 25. PAT CALDWELL photo

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment closed the book on a year-long deployment in Iraq Thursday during a Transfer of Authority ceremony at Joint Base Balad.

The final, official act of the Eastern Oregon battalion played out in a crowded Morale and Welfare Room at the big American base in central Iraq. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, Lt. Col. Phil Appleton of Silverton, and the unit’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj., Bill Wyllie of John Day, rolled up the bright yellow 116th Regimental guidon. Then Wyllie pulled a dark green jacket over the flag to officially “case” the colors. The quick act concluded more than a year of training, preparation and combat for the Oregon Guard unit. As soon as the 3rd Battalion’s colors were covered, the leaders of the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry, Kentucky Army National Guard, unfurled their unit’s flag to officially take over the Oregon unit’s convoy escort mission.

“It is a good thing we are done and the soldiers are ready to go home,” Appleton said.

The 3rd Battalion was mobilized for duty in Iraq in September 2010. After mobilization, the unit traveled to Camp Shelby, Miss., where it trained for more than six weeks before deploying to central Iraq. The battalion stepped into a high-profile mission to protect logistical convoys across central and northern Iraq.

A single-minded effort to hone fundamentals proved to be critical for success, Appleton said during his speech at the ceremony.

“We focused on the basics, we developed and mentored leaders and instilled in our unit a sense of humble pride and confidence,” he said.

Appleton also talked about the 3rd Battalion’s unique actions during its nine-month-long tour of duty in Iraq.

“The battalion accomplished many things over these last nine months. I want to express my gratitude and thanks to our unit’s leaders and our troopers on an exceptional job they have done,” he said.

The 3rd Battalion completed more than 1,800 convoy security missions and traveled more than 1.2 million miles of Iraqi roadways during its tour. The battalion also tangled with insurgent roadside bombs. The 3rd Battalion suffered more than 50 roadside bomb attacks during its nine-month stint. The enemy activity, though, did not hinder the battalion from success, Appleton said.

“Our battalion’s troopers have taken their lumps. They kept moving, maintained their discipline and accomplished the mission with tenacity and absolute professionalism,” Appleton said.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Scott, 46, a Carlton resident and a convoy escort team commander from the 3rd Battalion’s Alpha Company, attended the final ceremony Thursday. Scott, who previously served in Iraq in an infantry unit, said the danger level ebbed and flowed during the 3rd Battalion’s deployment.

“January was a pretty high spike for IEDs,” he said. “It got to the point in January where I expected to get hit.”

Scott said one major advantage 3rd Battalion soldiers secured was the type of equipment they used. The Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected armored vehicle his convoy escort team used was a game-changer.

“I always told the guys that the truck will do the job and it did,” he said.

After the ceremony Scott reflected on the fact his convoy escort team was done driving the roads of Iraq and, more importantly, safe.

“When I could put my (convoy escort team) into their transient housing and know they were not going out again then I kind of feel like I did my job because they were going home in one piece,” he said.