JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and sand finds its way into every crevice possibly imaginable. At first glance, this may be just another day in the “wish I weren’t here” adventure for U.S. soldiers serving here. But something is different, because today the fatigued and road-weary soldiers of Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command are passing the baton off to a batch fresh new faces from Kentucky’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, who also belong to the 77th.
Just in case you were wondering, the day in question is Aug. 25, 2011, when the 116th Cav. Regt. officially hands over control of the roads of northern Iraq to the 149th Inf. Regt., who has finally completed a weeks-long handoff process and months of training. In this time, the seasoned experts of the 116th have shared their knowledge of Iraq’s northern roads with the 149th.
Lt. Col. Phillip Appleton, 116th Cav. Regt. commander, a native of Silverton, Ore., said, “It feels very good (to be going home), the soldiers and leaders, we’re all tired physically and mentally. We feel a great sense of mission accomplishment, but look forward to getting back to our families.”
Asked whether the mission is being left in good hands, Appleton said, “The 149th is a great unit and we’ve set the conditions that will enable them to successfully complete their mission here in Iraq.”
Following the transfer of authority, the 149th Inf. Regt.’s mission will be ensuring supply convoys make it safely to soldiers on bases spread across northern Iraq in the closing months of the almost 9-year war here. While the task is monumental, it would seem the 149th is ready to take their place in American and Kentucky history with honor.
Regarding whether the 149th Inf. Regt. is ready to take over the mission, Maj. Jeffrey Cole, the executive officer for the 149th, a native of Berea, Ky., said, “Absolutely. We’ve trained for this for 2 years. Our training has been more than adequate. I feel our soldiers are very capable of taking this mission.”
As part of the largest deployment of Kentucky National Guard Soldiers since World War II, it would seem that the 149th Inf. Regt. is already a part of history, but the normal challenges of simply protecting and supplying American soldiers in Iraq are now compounded by the challenge of withdrawing Troops safely.
According to Cole, “I think our (149th’s) biggest challenge is continuing the convoy escort mission at the standard the 3-116th Cavalry Regt. has set. I’m very confident that our soldiers can maintain or even exceed those standards through our time here in Iraq.”
In the end, however, it seems that only time can tell what comes next for both units.