Coffin takes command of Va. Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team

Col. John M. Epperly, far right, watches as Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, the Virginia National Guard Land Component Commander, hands the unit colors for the Virginia National Guard's Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Col. William J. Coffin signifying Coffin's assumption of command during a change of command ceremony held Aug. 2, 2014, at Fort A. P. Hill. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Col. John M. Epperly, far right, watches as Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, the Virginia National Guard Land Component Commander, hands the unit colors for the Virginia National Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Col. William J. Coffin signifying Coffin’s assumption of command during a change of command ceremony held Aug. 2, 2014, at Fort A. P. Hill. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT A. P. HILL, Va. — Col. William J. Coffin took command of the Virginia National Guard’s Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Col. John M. Epperly, the 116th’s commander since June 2012, at a change of command ceremony Aug. 2, 2014, at Fort A. P. Hill, Va. Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, the Virginia National Guard Land Component Commander, was the senior officer in the ceremony and passed the 116th’s unit colors from Epperly to Coffin to signify the change of command of the unit.

“Col. Epperly, you have honed this brigade into a significant fighting force, combat ready as well as disaster ready,” Ortner said. He commended the brigade for their significant role in emergency response operations in Virginia as well as their key role in the multiple overseas mobilizations for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“You built a great brigade filled with outstanding Soldiers,” Ortner told Epperly, “and you are passing on a well trained and disciplined unit to Col. Coffin.”

Ortner described Coffin as the “right officer at the right time to continue to make a difference” and said “I can’t think of a better officer to assume command from Col. Epperly. I am confident he will lead the Stonewall Brigade on to even greater things.”

Epperly thanked his wife and children for their steadfast support not only during his command, but during his entire military career. He thanked the general officers who gave him the opportunity to command, and in particular he recognized the officers who commanded the battalions and squadrons of the 116th as well as their command sergeants major.

“I am incredibly blessed to have had such a superb group of leaders,” he said. “They were dauntless and tireless in their pursuit of excellence, and the Stonewall Brigade stands as one of the best brigade combat teams in the Army regardless of component because of the work and dedication of these fine officers and their command sergeants major.”

Epperly, a resident of Fredericksburg who is employed by Digital Management Inc., will become the Virginia Army National Guard operations and training officer.

“We are also a ready, relevant and responsive force for missions supporting civilian authorities and first responders in time of disaster,” Epperly said as he assessed the brigade’s level of readiness and described how Coffin is the right man to lead the brigade into the future. “The challenge will be to sustain this readiness for whatever missions might arise either overseas or right here at home. This will not be easy as resources become more constrained, however, I’m confident that the man you’re about to meet can do just that. Col. Coffin is a creative, resourceful and demanding leader, and he is a combat seasoned officer and is immediately ready to lead the brigade should it deploy. ”

Coffin, a native of Malden, Mass. who currently resides in Staunton and works full time for the Virginia National Guard, most recently served as the deputy commander for the 116th and the 29th Infantry Division chief of staff.

“We must focus our efforts to improves all aspects of unit readiness in order to be prepared to win when our nation calls us to deploy,” Coffin said. “My commitment to the Soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade is to provide you with the guidance, the resources and the flexibility to maximize your ability to meet these obligations.”

The 116th IBCT, also known as the “Stonewall Brigade,” is authorized approximately 3,400 Soldiers and is the largest major command in the Virginia National Guard. The 116th has units throughout Virginia from Winchester to Pulaski along I-81, from Staunton to Virginia Beach along I-64, from Danville to Lynchburg to Warrenton along Route 29 as well as Fredericksburg, Manassas and Leesburg.

A brigade combat team is the basic deployable unit of maneuver in the U.S. Army and carries with it support units necessary to sustain its operations away from its parent division. The 116th consists of two infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron, a field artillery battalion, a brigade support battalion and brigade special troops battalion.

“The Soldiers before you represent a brigade combat team that truly is one of the best in the Army,” Epperly said. “Three years ago, we embarked on a five-year journey that will culminate in 2016 with a potential overseas deployment should the brigade be needed.”

Under Epperly’s command, the 116th IBCT has returned to readiness for expeditionary operations while maintaining proficiency with counter-insurgency warfare. The brigade placed a premium on field and night combat operations in a joint and coalition warfighting environment. During the last two years, the 78 platoons and 30 companies that comprise the brigade combat team have reached proficiency for potential deployment in 2016.

The brigade senior leadership and staff completed a rigorous Warfighter command post exercise in May 2014 with the 42d Infantry Division from the New York Army National Guard, and the brigade was recognized as one of the most proficient of nine brigades in attendance by First Army leadership. The exercise validated the brigade battle staff’s ability to command and control the entire 3,400 Soldier BCT.

Additionally, the 116th completed a demanding Exportable Combat Training Capability rotation in June 2014 designed to test the brigade’s platoon’s proficiency for overseas combat deployment.

Over the past two years of Epperly’s command, the brigade has been recognized as being in the top five BCTs across the Army National Guard nationally. In addition to honing combat readiness, the brigade has responded to several emergency missions for the Commonwealth of Virginia ranging from hurricanes like Super Storm Sandy to local floods and winter storms.

The 116th Infantry Regiment has been called into service during World War I, World War II, the Balkans and in Afghanistan and Iraq in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. The 116th was first organized Nov. 3, 1741, as the Augusta County Regiment of the Virginia Militia. The brigade traces its lineage directly from the Augusta County Regiment served under George Washington in the French and Indian War as part of the Virginia Regiment. Elements of the brigade also served during the Revolutionary War and fought in the War of 1812. The regiment also served in the Army of the Shenandoah under Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, Jackson and his men earned the title “Stonewall” at the battle of First Manassas.

“As I look at our brigade colors today and see the battle streamers our generation put there, I see all of you In those colorful silk battle streamers, there’s a little piece of immortality for all of us who were there in those faraway lands together,” Epperly said. “We are forever linked to all who came before us from 1741 to now and into the future.”

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Additional biographical info:

Epperly is a 1989 graduate of the United State Military Academy at West Point where received a Bachelor of Science degree in General Engineering and International Relations. He also holds an MBA in Finance from Drexel University and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College Class of 2010. He is a resident of Fredericksburg and is employed by Digital Management Inc., in Bethesda, Md., supporting the U.S. Army and Department of Defense.

He received a regular Army commission through West Point as an Armor and Cavalry officer and served on active duty until 1997. He joined the Virginia Army National Guard and branch transferred to Infantry. He has served in numerous assignments over the last 15 years in the 116th Infantry Regiment and 29th Infantry Division to include rifle company commander, battalion operations officer, battalion executive officer and brigade operations officer.

Epperly commanded 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry and later deployed the battalion in support of Operation Vigilant Relief to assist civil authorities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Following the 116th’s transformation to a brigade combat team, Epperly took command of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry and deployed the battalion in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Under his command, the battalion was recognized with both the Reckord Trophy and Kerwin Award as the best National Guard battalion in the U.S. Army during training year 2007 as well as earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Epperly’s military education includes the Airborne School, Air Assault School, Armor Officers Basic Course, Scout Platoon Leader’s Course, Infantry Mortar Leader’s Course, Armor Officers Advanced Course, CAS3, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College.

Epperly’s awards and decorations include the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Parachutist Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with 2 OLC, the Army Commendation Medal with 3 OLC, the Joint Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with 1 OLC, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal with 2 OLC, the National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M device and Bronze Hourglass device, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Virginia Bronze Star, the Virginia Commendation Medal, the Governor’s Medal and the Order of Saint Maurice (Legionnaire) .

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Coffin is a 1988 graduate of the United State Military Academy at West Point, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He attended West Point after an initial enlistment as a combat engineer serving in Germany. He has a Master of Science in Urban Systems Engineering from George Mason University, a Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the U. S. Army Command and Staff College, a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College and is a Professional Civil Engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Coffin is a native of Malden, Mass., and currently resides in Staunton, Va.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the 23rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Division in Hanau, Germany and served as an assault and barrier platoon leader during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Coffin next served on active duty at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was on the battalion staff, commanded two different companies and deployed to Haiti in support of Operation Uphold Democracy. He also served as a company commander and battalion staff officer at Fort Belvoir. He left active duty in 1999 and joined the National Guard as a member of the Active Guard and Reserve program.

After an initial tour at National Guard Bureau, Coffin was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division and then served as the executive officer and commander of the Fredericksburg-based 229th Engineer Battalion. While in command, he transformed the 229th to the 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. He next served as the operations officer for the 116th IBCT and mobilized with the 116th as the executive officer during the brigade headquarters deployment to Iraq. He later served as the deputy brigade commander before his reassignment as the Virginia National Guard G1 personnel officer. He most recently served as the chief of staff for the 29th Infantry Division and officially took command of the 116th on July 1, 2014.

Coffin is a graduate of the Engineer Officer Basic and Advance Courses, Infantry Captains Career Course, Human Resources Management Qualification Course, the Airborne and Jumpmaster Schools, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, and the U.S. Army War College.

Among his awards and decorations are the Bronze Star (with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster), the Meritorious Service Medal (with one Silver Oak Leaf Cluster and one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster), the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Valorous Unit Award, the master parachutist badge, and the Army Staff Badge.

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