By Staff Sgt. Pat Caldwell
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq— Tradition plays a big role with any military outfit, and eastern Oregon’s Army Guard unit is no exception.
Earlier this month, members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), participated in a time-honored event called a patch ceremony at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Phil Appleton, battalion commander, and a native of Silverton, Ore., placed the 3-116th Cav. Reg. unit insignia on the right arm of Guardsmen serving on their first deployment.
The event is a historic ritual for Guardsmen, Appleton said. Ordinarily each soldier wears the patch of his or her unit on the left arm. When a unit is deployed to combat, each soldier earns the privilege of wearing the unit patch on their right arm.
“It is a defining moment when they wear the patch,” said Appleton. “People will see they’ve deployed and gone to combat.”
Appleton, a former Union County resident, said the right arm patch is significant.
“I remember back when I was a Joe in 1986,” he reminisced. “Guys with combat patches were seen as a different kind of soldier. They were combat vets.”
The 3rd Sus. Bde. is spread across central Iraq with its headquarters situated at JBB. Each unit in the battalion will conduct a patch ceremony this month.
Appleton said he was pleased to be able to bestow the right shoulder patch of the 116th Cav. Reg. to the men and women of the battalion.
“It felt great, especially when the majority of the troops were privates and specialists,” he said.
Appleton conceded the demographics of the 3rd Bn. are different than during the unit’s first deployment in 2004.
“During the first deployment a lot of the guys wearing the (right) patch were older soldiers,” he said. “Now, these young kids will take this experience and remember it the rest of their lives.”
Staff Sgt. Chris Hamby, non-commissioned officer in charge of the theater operations center for the 3-116th Cav. Reg. and native of Athena, Ore., said the right combat shoulder patch secured substance for him when he was a boy.
“Ever since I was a kid and saw the 1st Infantry Division patch on my grandfather’s uniform, I felt like I owed him and my country to do what we do,” he said “The significance of the patch I have is that I feel like my debt is paid.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Wyllie, the command sergeant major for the 3-116th Cav. Reg., 3rd Sus. Bde., and native of John Day, Ore., said the ceremony resonated with Guardsmen.
“The thing I saw was that as I shook their hands, there was pride in their eyes,” Wyllie said.