TAJI, Iraq — For many Soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade it was a day of firsts.
Not only was it their first Independence Day in a combat zone and their first spent away from their families, but most importantly, on the 233rd anniversary of the United States, their first combat patch.
Patch ceremonies for the 1st ACB took place on a dust swept morning, July 4, at the headquarters of the various battalions within the brigade on Camp Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad, as first time deployers with the 1st ACB had the storied 1st Cavalry Division patch placed on their right shoulder as a permanent reminder of their service.
During the patch ceremony for the 615th Aviation Support Brigade, 1st ACB, Col. Douglas Gabram, from Cleveland, Ohio, commander, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., Multi-National Division — Baghdad, said the ceremony could have taken place a month earlier, but decided to wait.
"We could have thrown the patch on the right shoulder 30 days ago, but we waited until today because we're old fashioned in the Air Cav," Gabram said. "It's a special day, the 4th of July and this combat patch linked to you, nobody can take it away."
Gabram said, the significance of the patch might not be apparent now to younger Soldiers, but will take on extra meaning in the coming years.
"Many of you are putting the patch on for the first time and when you're retired you will remember this day and be proud of this patch on your right shoulder," Gabram said. "You may not see it now, but you will."
Gabram thanked the 615th ASB for their sacrifices and to use events like the patch ceremony to stay positive.
"Many of you have lost friends over here and when you sit today and reflect about the 4th of July and what it means, think about that and how special it is to wear the First Team combat patch."
Lt. Col. Harold Keck, from Edmond, Okla., commander, 615th ASB, also explained the importance of the patch ceremony, describing it as historic for 'Cold Steel.'
"This patch has a proud and lengthy history with an extremely courageous and ferocious lineage," Keck said. "You now join the many Soldiers who went before you."
Keck said the first time he saw the 1st Cav. Div. patch was as a nine-year-old when he saw the film "Apocalypse Now" with his father, something that stayed with him in later years.
"When I joined the Army as a young private, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be standing before a formation of proud professionals wearing this patch," Keck said.
The proudest day of his military career was the day he had the 1st Cav. Div. patch placed on his right sleeve and hoped in later years Soldiers of the 615th would feel the same way, he said.
"The boss [Col. Gabram] said it, but I want to reiterate it; in 30 years time, maybe 50 or 60, I want you to remember this day and time," Keck said. "There's nothing better than having a 1st Cav sandwich," in reference to wearing the 1st Cav. patch on both shoulders.
Receiving his first combat patch was Spc. Travis Lee, from Memphis, Tenn., paralegal, 1st ACB, who said he had waited a long time to wear the 1st Cav. Div. patch.
"On our last deployment I didn't get a chance to deploy with the Air Cav [due to] injury, so it feels great," Lee said following the ceremony.
Having the patch ceremony on Independence Day added extra meaning to the occasion, Lee said, a suitable reminder of the sacrifices of Soldiers past and present.
"We have to make sure people understand that we don't take freedom for granted," Lee said. "What we are doing over here is very important and the primary mission is to get back home safe."
Having the First Team patch, in particular, means more to Lee than just the material it is made of.
"For me this patch means the honor and tradition of serving in the 1st Cavalry Division," Lee said.
"I knew when I was coming to the division I was always going to be a part of something special," he said proudly.
This work, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade celebrates Independence Day with combat patch ceremony, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.