29th ID Soldiers return from federal duty in Kuwait

One of the final groups of Maryland and Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division returns to Virginia July 25, 2017, after serving on federal active duty since November 2016. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — One of the final groups of Maryland and Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division returned to Virginia July 25, 2017, after serving on federal active duty since November 2016. The Soldiers served in the Middle East in support of Task Force Spartan Shield as the first intermediate division headquarters under U.S. Army Central Command. Senior leaders from state government and the Maryland and Virginia National Guard greeted Soldiers when they arrived at Dulles Airport, then the Soldiers reunited with family, friends and fellow Soldiers in Maryland and Virginia. A small number of Soldiers remain at their demobilization station in Texas to finalize their transition from federal active duty to traditional Guard status.

“On behalf of Governor Terry McAuliffe, we want to express the appreciation of all Virginians to these men and women who have served our country so admirably,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Being out here today to welcome them home is one of the best parts of my job.”

During the deployment, the 29th ID Soldiers provided mission command for joint training exercises and military-to-military engagements with partner nations to promote regional stability and theater security cooperation.

Moran, State Delegate and Co-Chair of the Virginia General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus Richard Anderson, Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Curtis Brown, Brig. Gen. Paul Griffin, Virginia National Guard Director of the Joint Staff, and Col. Adam R. Flasch, Maryland Army National Guard Chief of Staff, greeted Soldiers at the airport and thanked them for their service.

The division’s mission as Task Force Spartan in Kuwait highlighted the vital role played by Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers in operations around the world. Since it was established last December, Task Force Spartan has conducted over 1,300 military-to-military engagements, planned, and executed 15 bilateral and multilateral exercises in 10 countries, coordinated and executed 17 minor military construction projects, and completed over 30 project assessments.

Additionally, the 29th introduced new capabilities, such as its Cyberspace Electromagnetic Activities cell, and established new network infrastructure to enable the division staff to communicate.

Maj. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Smith, senior enlisted advisor, case the division colors during the Task Force Spartan transfer of authority ceremony, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, July 13, 2017.  (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark Hanson)

Maj. Gen. Victor J. Braden, 35th Infantry Division commanding general, assumed command of Task Force Spartan from Maj. Gen. Blake Ortner, 29th Infantry Division commanding general, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, July 13, 2017. The transfer of authority ceremony was presided over by Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett, commanding general, U.S. Army Central.

“As the old cadence goes, ‘around the world and back again,’ … we’ve come around the world, and done our jobs well, this opportunity has been an incredible experience and now we’re ready to get home,” Ortner said.

Task Force Spartan is a unique, multi-component organization, made up of active Army and National Guard units, rounded out by U.S. Army Reserve support units. The task force mission in the Middle East is to support the United States’ global strategic plan, provide regional stability, security, and maintain a land-ready operational force, said Braden.

“It’s a challenge we accept,” said Braden. “We will build upon the success of the 29th and expand Gulf Cooperation Council partnerships.”

“In this role they will perform the critical task of mission command for Operation Spartan Shield, an operation ongoing since 2011,” said, Garrett, “Now in its sixth year, OSS is U.S. Central Command’s effort to deter regional aggression and malign influence in the region.”

Operation Spartan Shield is U.S. Central Command’s means to deter regional aggression and stabilize countries within the region. From Egypt to Pakistan, Kazakhstan to Yemen, the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility is strategically important as well as volatile.

“We remain indebted to the National Guard Bureau, and the Director of the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve Command for all they have done to ensure we can continue this important mission here in the Central Command AOR,” Garrett said.

The two divisions also have a storied past with shared experiences since World War I. Both divisions fought in Europe during the First and Second World Wars, including 1918’s Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the battle for Saint-Lo in July 1944.

Now, the unit once known as “The Infantry Spearhead” of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, the 35th ID is part of the Third Army again to assume the mission of Task Force Spartan.

The 35th “Santa Fe Division,” hails from Missouri and Kansas and deployed to Kuwait to accept the responsibility of Task Force Spartan and oversight of Operation Spartan Shield.

“The Santa Fe Division looks forward to building and maintaining a ready land force that supports our nation’s goals of regional stability and security,” said Braden. “We relish the challenge before us.”

Additional reporting by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Miller and Capt. Scott Campbell