Red Dragons take over security mission in Qatar

Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Red Dragons, officially begin their security mission in Qatar with a transfer of authority ceremony July 11, 2016. (Photo courtesy Task Force Normandy)

Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Red Dragons, officially begin their security mission in Qatar with a transfer of authority ceremony July 11, 2016. (Photo courtesy Task Force Normandy)

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – Two Virginia Army National Guard units charged with the responsibility for security at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, conducted a Relief In Place/Transfer of Authority ceremony July 11, 2016. Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as the Red Dragons, assumed responsibility for the mission from the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, also known as Task Force Normandy.

Both units belong to the storied “Stonewall Brigade” which can trace its lineage all the way back to 1742. There Col. James Patton formed the Brigade as the Augusta County Militia. Task Force Normandy, commanded by Lt. Col. Kurt Kobernik, wrapped up their 9 month tour of duty with a host of accolades from Army Central Command and the host nation.

“This mission has been ongoing for 13 years, and what 3rd Battalion has done in the last 9 months is take a fresh look at this mission, and they improved their fighting position,” said Col. Jeffrey Merenkov, Commander of Area Support Group-Qatar. “I’m very proud of you. Many security force battalions just come in and do their daily missions- they don’t go out of their way to make their Soldiers better and the installation better. 3rd Battalion made us all better, and they have set a high standard for 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment.”

Relief in place/transfer of authority ceremonies are different from traditional change of command ceremonies, in that instead of the existing unit commander being relieved by a new commander, the entire unit is replaced with a new unit. The outgoing unit cases its colors to symbolize the retirement of its mission, while the incoming unit un-cases its colors as it accepts the mission handover.

In his remarks, the outgoing Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Kobernik, stressed to his solders how proud he was of their work. “Task Force Normandy, I’m proud of you. In less than 90 days you assembled a team and deployed them to the ARCENT Area of Responsibility. You’ve done things that others told us could not be done,” He said “Your ability to train to squad level proficiency, and execute team- and squad-level live fire is nothing less than impressive. Most importantly, though, I’m most impressed by your ability to maintain your professionalism and carry out your responsibilities.”

Both 1st and 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, Virginia Army National Guard, are two of the longest serving and most historic units in the United States Army, carrying on a tradition that dates to 1742. Both battalions fought through the Revolutionary War under General Andrew Lewis, serving with great distinction at Germantown, Brandywine, and Charleston. During the Civil War, the regiments that came together in the geographic area of today’s 3rd Battalion formed the First Virginia Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Jackson.

In 1917, the Army National Guard formed the 29th Infantry Division from regiments north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, dubbing the division “The Blue and Gray.” Virginia’s regiments became the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. The unit earned the motto “Ever Forward!” during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the Alsace campaign of World War I for the reputation of having never given ground in battle. During World War II, the 116th Infantry Regiment spearheaded the invasion at Normandy, France, where it landed on Omaha Beach. 3rd Battalion deployed under the moniker “Task Force Normandy” in honor of this history.

In its 273-year history, 3rd Battalion has earned 43 campaign and award streamers for their unit colors, making it one of the Army’s most decorated battalions. The citizen-soldiers of this unit are truly proud of its almost three centuries of history, and stand ready to serve both globally and domestically.

“It was a honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity to replace our sister battalion in support of Area Support Group – Qatar,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Samulski, the incoming battalion commander. “Every Soldier of the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment is committed to the service to this great nation. The Red Dragons will strive to maintain the high standards set by Task Force Normandy, protect our nation’s interests in the Central Command area of operations and build on the historic legacy of the Stonewall Brigade and the Virginia Army National Guard.”

In its 265-year history, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, Virginia Army National Guard, has earned 43 campaign and award streamers for the battalion colors, making it one of the most decorated battalions in the United States Army. The citizen-soldiers of the unit are truly proud of their battalion’s history, and they continue to honor that heritage by their recent accomplishments, their continued service, and their constant readiness to serve at home and abroad, in peace or at war. Their motto remains “Ever Forward”.

Story by James Summers, Area Support Group Qatar Public Affairs Office