Task Force Punisher Soldiers gather for Freedom Salute honoring service in Iraq

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker presents the Governor's National Service Medal to a Soldier from Task Force Punisher during the unit's Freedom Salute held May 20 in Richmond. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard."

RICHMOND, Va. — Approximately 300 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command, also known as Task Force Punisher, along with family, friends and employers, gathered at the Richmond Convention Center May 20 to conduct a Freedom Salute in honor of their service in Iraq. Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker joined Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, in thanking the Soldiers for their service and also presented a certificate of recognition signed by Gov. Bob. McDonnell.

“On behalf of Governor McDonnell and the entire McDonnell administration, thank you for your service,” Decker said. “Thank you for what you do, thank you for what you have done, and thank you for what you continue to do.”

Decker also thanked families and employers for their “steadfast support” during the deployment.

“Virginia had a long history and tradition of volunteerism, and we wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for citizen-Soldiers,” Decker said. “It is a proud and noble thing that you do.”

Lt. Col. Neal Edmonds, commander of Task Force Punisher, presented a U. S. flag that had been flow in Iraq to Decker, along with a second flag for McDonnell. Edmonds also presented a Virginia flag flown in Iraq to Long.

The Soldiers officially began federal active duty Feb. 25, 2011, and they served in Iraq from April to December 2011. They trained at Fort Hood, Texas, for approximately 60 days prior to deploying to Iraq. The battalion mobilized more than 400 Virginia and Maryland Army National Guard Soldiers for duty in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn with the mission of conducting air assault and combat support aviation operations in order to facilitate combat, peacekeeping and sustainment efforts to build a secure and stable environment in conjunction with the Iraqi National Government.

The Punishers were one of the last three U.S. military aviation assets to depart Iraq. They flew more that 16,500 combat flight hours during more than 1,800 combat missions while performing split-based operations from seven different locations. The battalion executed an average of 15 missions per day and flew more than 30,000 passengers, and they planned and executed multiple direct action air assault missions that were instrumental in reducing the number of attacks on United States forces.

The battalion had no Soldiers killed in action or seriously wounded in action.

The Freedom Salute recognized the Soldiers, their families, employers and organizations that contributed significantly to supporting the unit during its deployment. The Freedom Salute Campaign is one of the largest Army National Guard recognition endeavors in history, designed to publicly acknowledge Army Guard Soldiers and those who supported them during the President’s call to duty for Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

As part of the Freedom Salute ceremony, the Soldiers received the Virginia Governor’s National Service Medal. The medal was created in 2005 by then-Governor Mark R. Warner to recognize the service of the men and women of the Virginia Army and Air National Guard called to active federal service since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The award was first presented Nov. 11, 2005 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.

The task force consisted of the headquarters company, three assault helicopter companies, the aviation maintenance company, the forward support company and one attached aero-medical helicopter company totaling more than 520 Soldiers, 30 UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters and 12 HH-60M medical evacuation helicopters.

They conducted effective and responsive air assault and air movement aviation operations in order to provide freedom of movement for ground commanders throughout Iraq, interdict weapons smuggling operations and facilitate security operations and sustainment efforts for United States forces.

The battalion’s forward support company provided Forward Arming and Refueling Point support to the battalion’s aircraft, as well as multiple other aircraft from a myriad of units.  Typically fueling more than 40 aircraft per day, they issued more than a million gallons of aircraft fuel during the combat deployment.

While headquartered in Sandston, the battalion is made up of Soldiers from all over the state. Approximately 110 Soldiers are from the Richmond and Petersburg area, about 50 are from the Hampton Roads area, approximately 15 are from the Charlottesville and Central Virginia area, about 25 are from the Northern Virginia area, approximately 15 are from the Fredericksburg and Stafford County area and the other Soldiers are from various locations across the state. Approximately 75 are from the Maryland National Guard. Their medical evacuation company was from the Florida and Georgia Army National Guard.

The battalion last mobilized for federal active duty in Iraq from January 2006 to February 2007.