Training, combat readiness take center stage in change of command ceremony

Lt. Col. Robert Leseman, the incoming commander of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, holds the unit guidon during a change-of-command ceremony at the Winchester Readiness Center Feb. 8, 2020. LesemanÕs receipt of the guidon signifies that he accepts the responsibilities of ensuring the 535 Soldiers of 3rd Battalion are trained and ready to support their neighbors and fellow Virginians during emergencies and natural disasters, and that they combat- and deployment-ready to defend their nation and fellow Americans during wartime. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Marc Loi)

WINCHESTER, Va. — A Haymarket, Virginia, resident is now the commander of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Lt. Col. Robert Leseman officially took command of the Winchester-based unit from Lt. Col. Steele McGonegal during a change-of-command ceremony Feb. 8, 2020, at the Winchester Readiness Center, as their families, Soldiers and Virginia National Guard leaders looked on.

Leseman entered the Army in 1994, and served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina as an infantryman. His most recent assignment was with the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based 124th Cyber Protection Brigade, where he commanded Soldiers whose missions are to protect the Army’s computer and information technology infrastructures from attacks by hackers, terrorist groups, and the United States’ adversaries.

In his new position as 3rd Battalion commander, Leseman will be in charge of six companies, composing of about 535 Soldiers who train in realistic, tough conditions throughout the year to ensure they are ready to support their neighbors and fellow Virginians during emergencies and natural disasters. If called upon, these same Soldiers will also deploy to defend their nation and fellow Americans during wartime.

Col. Joseph DiNonno, commander of 116th IBCT, said during the ceremony that Leseman is “the right person at the right time” to lead 3rd Battalion Soldiers as the unit prepares for their Joint Readiness Training Center rotation at Fort Polk, Louisiana, this summer.

DiNonno also had high praises for McGonegal, who he described as a ‘can-do’ commander who put Soldiers’ readiness first. DiNonno recalled a rainy night years ago in which he saw what appeared, from faraway, to be a group of Soldiers fighting while others cheered them on. As DiNonno approached, he saw that it was McGonegal and his Soldiers – soaking wet – as they trained in hand-to-hand combat.

That kind of realistic training, DiNonno said, will ultimately make Soldiers combat-ready should they be called upon.

“We will we called again, and training [like that] will help toward divisive action,” he said.

In his speech McGonegal said he was especially proud of the training 3rd Battalion Soldiers took part in during the unit’s 2019 eXPortable Combat Training Capability.

“The highlight of the training for me was experiencing the constant, never-ending improvement you showed on the platoon live-fire no matter the weather conditions,” he said. “You put steel on target while conducting offensive operations. I saw what each company could do with two days of Infantry Platoon Battle Course training. I can only imagine the level of performance a week or more of focused efforts would be.”

Prior to signing off as “Normandy 6” – his call sign as commander of 3rd Battalion – for the last time, McGonegal reminded the Soldiers he commanded that they had limitless potential to take their Army career as far as they wanted.

“In this battalion are the future battalion, brigade, division and state command sergeants major and commanders,” he said. “I am convinced of that. Future leaders start here. Normandy 6, out!”