CAMP TAJI, Iraq
– One hundred and sixteen Citizen-Soldiers stood tall as they received a lasting symbol of their service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom while they celebrated the National Guard’s birthday, Dec. 13, 2009.
Three hundred and seventy-three years after the birth of the National Guard in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, members of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 211th Military Police Battalion celebrated the occasion while affixing the patch of the 89th Military Police Brigade to their right shoulders in recognition of their wartime service here in Iraq.
The 211th has supported detainee operations here at the Theater Internment Facility and Reconciliation Center at Camp Taji since September after six weeks of intensive training at Ft. Bliss, Texas. The Soldiers have coupled their knowledge and skills with dedication and professionalism in order to carry out the challenging tasks in the TIFRC and Camp Taji. The successful execution of this mission is instrumental to the transfer of detainee operations to the Government of Iraq early next year and is an integral part of the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Richard Johnson, spoke about the importance of the mission.
“The successful transition of detainee operations and the safe and orderly transfer of detainees to Iraqi custody are critical to the responsible drawdown of U.S. forces in support of the Security Agreement and rule of law in Iraq. This mission is a tremendous challenge for our Soldiers and Sailors who perform at the tactical level. The challenge for the Guard force is to insure that detainees are always treated with dignity and respect and that good order and discipline are constantly maintained. There is very little ‘glory’ in a mission of this nature, just hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. A good day in detainee operations is one in which ‘nothing’ happens. Our challenge as leaders is to keep our Soldiers and Sailors informed and impress upon them the tremendous strategic value of what they are doing every day. The reward for their hard work is not always visible to them but if the mission is completed successfully, they will have contributed significantly to the overall campaign plan for responsible drawdown and a “return with honor,” the motto of Joint Task Force 134, the Detention Operations Joint Command.”
The combat patch ceremony was new for many of the Soldiers who are on their first deployment, like Spc. Laura V. Ceballos of Lowell, Mass. Ceballos volunteered for the deployment and joined the unit only a few months before the mission.
“I enjoyed the fact that they did a ceremony for the combat patch. It is something I will remember because everyone took the time to make it memorable and enjoyable, rather than just saying ‘here you go,’” said Ceballos.
For others, like Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Smith of Brockton, Mass., receiving a combat patch may not be new, but its meaning has not been diminished.
“I can remember exactly where and when I got my combat patch with Echo Battery, 101st Field Artillery in Iraq. Nothing meant more to me than getting that patch with 35 of my brothers. It’s a big day for a lot of these Soldiers and it gives you a sense of validation and pride,” said Smith.
The headquarters detachment commander, Capt. Veronica J.S. Mack of Sterling, Mass., described the pride she gets from serving with the Soldiers of the 211th.
“Today’s ceremony was certainly a historic event for the HHD and its Soldiers. Most importantly for me, it is always great to see Soldiers recognized for their service and their sacrifices. Our combat patch ceremony was an especially important event of such recognition,” said Mack.Following the combat patch ceremony, the 211th celebrated the National Guard’s Birthday by having the unit’s youngest Soldier, Spc. Joshua D. Develis of Winchendon, Mass., and its oldest Soldier, Master Sgt. William P. Volpe of Braintree, Mass., cut the cake. All the Soldiers of the unit were also treated to care packages donated by Gillette and the Boston Fire Department, and Christmas stockings sent as part of the “Christmas Stockings for Soldiers” program organized by the McNally and Watson Funeral Home of Clinton, Mass.