NORTH KAIA, Afghanistan - This chapter's over. The pages of Task Force Guam's Operation Enduring Freedom history book are forever etched in stone.
In a historic and sentimental Dec. 26 Casing Ceremony, close to 150 soldiers from 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard -- nearly a quarter of Guam's total strength on this nine-month tour -- officially ended their 2013 OEF responsibility as leaders secured their Battalion guidon at the Morale and Welfare Activity Center.
Lt. Col. Michael Tougher, Task Force Guam commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Mel Hennegan, command sergeant major, furled the battalion colors signifying the official conclusion of Guam's responsibilities. Guam hands its mission to 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Combat Brigade Team, 82nd Airborne Division, United States Army, and awaits a return flight to Camp Shelby, Miss., for demobilization.
"You all worked very hard to get here. You performed your mission to the best of your abilities," Tougher said, acknowledging the soldiers still in Afghanistan and those who have already left. "You trained hard for almost two years so that you knew your tasks and missions. You understood what was necessary to protect those you were responsible for, to protect the Afghan population and protect yourself."
When Guam replaced Task Force Centurion Prime -- a product of 1st Battalion, 167th Infantry Regiment, Alabama Army National Guard -- in April 2013, it brought more than 500 organic soldiers to Afghanistan for the first time since 2009, when a company-sized element booted ground in southern Afghanistan.
Coupled with Alabama soldiers who extended their tours, and nearly two dozen individual augments from various National Guards, Task Force Guam was an island force with national influence. Together it produced more than 12,000 missions, provided support to well above 50,000 military and civilian contractors, and amassed close to 150,000 miles driving through some of the most dangerous roads on planet Earth.
"We've successfully completed what was asked of us and even went beyond what was expected," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mel Hennegan. "This is a proud moment for our soldiers as well as for Guam overall. This was a tough mission. There was nothing easy about it. Top to bottom, we had outstanding soldiers who were committed to this mission."
Guam's main responsibilities were security forces (transportation), guardian angels and personal security. Soldiers also operated at entry control points and perimeter security, and were tasked to fulfill other duties such as dining facility attendants and store keepers. Various soldiers volunteered their extra time to sing in church choirs and charitable groups for Afghan communities. Task Force Guam definitely left an everlasting imprint professionally as well as beyond its mission responsibilities.
"There hasn't been a better unit I have come across since I've been here," Command Sgt. Maj. Gabriel Cervantes, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A)/ Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) command sergeant major, previously stated. "I tell everybody if you want to see an outstanding unit, go see Task Force Guam."
"Let me say thanks to the Guam National Guard for your great response here but also in the homeland," Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief, National Guard Bureau, said in November. "Whether it's an earthquake or typhoon, you're always ready 24-7."
Tougher and Hennegan credited the tremendous support from the Northern Mariana Islands that featured 16 soldiers who also historically represented their home on this mission.
Task Force Guam operated at all six International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command regions and stationed at nearly 15 locations. Majority of forces were based in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
The leaders advised their troops that work is still not done. There's the journey home, and a considerable amount of soldiers are still in Afghanistan. More than half already are out-processing at Camp Shelby and the few remaining in country will venture through the same journey.
This is the fourth time 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, Guam Army National Guard, has sent troops to support Operation Enduring Freedom. Previous missions were to Afghanistan and Djibouti, Horn of Africa and Philippines.
After the ceremony, the Guam soldiers united at center floor. They gave a moment of silence to Sgt. Eugene Aguon and Spc. Dwayne Flores, their brothers who bravely died last May. In unison, they sang Fanohge Chamorro, Guam's national anthem, to honor their fallen heroes and show their island pride. The MWA activity center loudly echoed with the deep rhythm of Guam's sons and daughters who were called to bravely uphold an American tradition -- Freedom, at whatever cost.