Sandston-based aviation battalion welcomes new commander

Lt. Col. Neal Edmonds hands the unit colors for 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment to Col. Walt Mercer, commander of 91st Troop Command, symbolizing his relinquishing command to Lt. Col. Perry Jones during a change of command ceremony held June 10 in Sandston. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. — Aviators and Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment welcomed new commander Lt. Col. Perry Jones and bid farewell to outgoing commander Lt. Col. Neal Edmonds in a change of command ceremony held June 10 at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Sandston, Va.

“From ancient times, armies throughout the world have conducted ceremonies to commemorate victory over the enemy, to honor comrades in arms, to celebrate special occasions and to honor their dead,” said Maj. Carl Engstrom, master of ceremony for the event, as he explained the significance and tradition of military ceremonies. “The presence of the battalion colors at the center of the formation represents their importance of being at the forefront of the unit during the heat of battle.”

In a symbolic transfer of command authority, battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Lester Kipp presented the battalion colors to Edmonds, who passed them to Col. Walter Mercer, commander of 91st Troop Command, to signify his relinquishing of command and responsibly for the Punisher Battalion.  Mercer then presented the colors to Jones, signifying his assumption of command and entrusting him to lead the battalion.  Lastly, Jones returned the colors to Kipp for safekeeping.

“I am very confident with both of these leaders,” Mercer said, “and know that this transition will be smooth and that the battalion will remain in good hands with Lt. Col. Jones.”

Edmonds received a Meritorious Service Medal for his time as commander, a period that included a deployment to Iraq in 2011 in support of Operation New Dawn. During his tenure as commander, the aviation battalion completed three separate self-deployments of 10 aircraft each to three different locations in Iraq, conducted more than 16,000 combat flight hours, flew more than 150 medical evacuation missions, and redeployed 42 aircraft and 520 Soldiers.  Under Edmonds, the 2-224th Aviation Battalion was one of the last U.S. military aviation assets to depart Iraq in December 2011. The unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for its performance in Iraq.

Edmonds expressed gratitude to both his Virginia Guard senior leaders, as well as to the leadership he served under while deployed to Iraq.

“Thank you for the privilege of commanding this extraordinary and storied battalion,” Edmonds said.  “I am very humbled by the honor of serving these great Soldiers and witnessing them do what they do best, in combat, and here.”

Edmonds also expressed gratitude to his family for their support, as well as the support of his aviation mentors, and the Soldiers of the 2-224th.

“This is obviously a big day for me,” Jones said as he took the podium to address and thank his family members, senior leaders of the Virginia National Guard and the Soldiers of the 2-224th.

Jones comes into command of the aviation battalion with 25 years of service in the National Guard.  He served as a flight platoon leader during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as a liaison officer for the 2-224th during Operation Iraqi Freedom, as an aviation operations officer in the Arizona National Guard under Operation Jump Start and as the National Guard Assistant Deputy Commandant at the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Al. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with three bronze oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal, among many other decorations.  Jones is a senior aviator qualified to pilot the UH-1, UH-60 and C-12U.

“To the members of the battalion, I would say this: we’re in a time of transition as a nation, transitioning more toward peace and less toward war and with that comes changes,” Jones said.  “But nonetheless, our duty toward our nation and the commonwealth of Virginia will remain the same…and I ask you to commit yourself to always be ready to meet the task at hand.”

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