Freedom Salute honors Security Force Platoon service in Afghanistan

Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker presents the Virginia Governor’s National Service Medal to Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s Hampton-based Provincial Reconstruction Team Security Force Platoon in Williamsburg July 22, 2012 at a Freedom Salute to honor their service in Afghanistan. Approximately 40 Soldiers from the platoon returned home in late March after serving on federal active duty in Afghanistan since June 2011. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Approximately 40 Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Hampton-based Provincial Reconstruction Team Security Force Platoon gathered July 22 in Williamsburg  to conduct a Freedom Salute in honor of their service in Afghanistan. The Soldiers returned home in late March after serving on federal active duty in Afghanistan since June 2011.

“We started with the words discipline and honor, and they were our foundation,” said Capt. James Covington, commander of the platoon. “You guys lived up to those words, and then some. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of everything you have done.”

The Soldiers performed more than 640 security missions in support of PRT Uruzgan while the PRT was operating in potentially dangerous areas to rebuild infrastructure, assist with agriculture, build wells and provide healthcare to the people across their area of operations in Afghanistan. The Soldiers officially began federal active duty March 26, 2011, and trained at Camp Atterbury for approximately 60 days prior to deploying to Afghanistan. The platoon had no Soldiers killed in action or seriously wounded.

“On behalf of Governor McDonnell, thank you for what you do,” said Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker. “Thank you for your dedicated service to your commonwealth and to the nation.”
Decker also thanked the families and employers and recognized the sacrifice they make to support the Soldiers so they can accomplisher their mission.

A PRT has a military element with civil affairs and engineers as well as civilian advisors and civilian representatives of government foreign affairs agencies from the United States and other countries, and PRT Uruzgan was a joint venture of the United States, Australia and the Netherlands. The Soldiers were organized into squads of approximately 10 Soldiers each at four different locations across the Uruzgan Province in the Regional Command South area of operations, and travel between the locations could take up to seven hours.

Covington said the squad leaders had to step up to be able to accomplish the assigned mission given the huge space between the different elements of the platoon. “The mission called for mature and disciplined responses, and you guys did just that,” Covington said.

The platoon was organized specifically for the mission of providing security for a provincial reconstruction team under the command of the Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery, 116th Brigade Combat Team, and the Soldiers are from all over the state including Northern Virginia, Charlottesville, Staunton, Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area, as well as Southern Virginia. Fifteen different units from across the Virginia Army National Guard provided Soldiers for the mission. The Soldiers will return to their units after the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration is complete.

“You are going back to your units as better Soldiers, with better skills, and you are going to go far no matter what you do,” Covington said. “Take what you learned to your next unit and display the same kind of excellence there that you did here.”

The Freedom Salute recognizes 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.

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