BOSTON – The oldest engineer unit in the United States Army assembled in front of the oldest ship in the United States Navy on June 13, 2009 to recognize the 101st Engineer Battalion’s upcoming deployment to Iraq.
Over 500 spectators attended the hour-long ceremony at Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston honoring approximately 180 Soldiers assigned to the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick attended the event and described it as “a glorious morning to recognize and acknowledge glorious service.” Patrick implored the Soldiers of the 101st Engineer Battalion to take inspiration from the U.S.S. Constitution just as he takes inspiration from them.
The governor’s advice was based on a long and heroic heritage possessed by the U.S.S. Constitution. A history extending back over 200 years and intimately intertwined with the 101st Engineer Battalion.
The unit’s senior enlisted Soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Peter Chase, described the event in 1861 where the men of the 101st Engineer Battalion sailed the U.S.S. Constitution from Annapolis, Md. to safety in New York preventing its capture by Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The American Civil War represents only one of the seven armed conflicts in which the 101st Engineer Battalion has participated since its inception in 1636.
Accompanying Patrick in the ceremony were several elected officials including Congresswoman Niki Tsongas of the Fifth Congressional District of Massachusetts. During her speech Tsongas recognized the importance of both the Soldiers of the National Guard and their families.
“The role of the National Guard cannot be overstated,” said Tsongas. “Roughly a quarter of the military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been members of the Guard and the Reserve… and to family and friends here today, I would like to thank you for your support, your bravery and patriotism which makes possible the personal sacrifice at the heart of your loved one’s military service.”
Tsongas elaborated on the critical nature of this particular juncture in Iraq, “You will be part of a very important time as we help the Iraqis stand on their feet, achieve greater political stability and shape our future with them.”
Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, echoed that sentiment. “Today we will not only acknowledge the deployment of this unit, but the sacrifice and service of their families who will undertake the difficult duty of maintaining their home lives in the absence of their loved ones.”
Carter recognized the parents of four families who will have two of their children overseas simultaneously as a result of this mobilization. Each family was thanked and presented with a Blue Star Banner embroidered with two stars indicating two of their children deployed. Carter also provided insight into the 101st Engineer Battalion’s mission in Iraq.
“They will contribute to the safety, security and stability… by managing construction operations in their assigned zone, oversee all forward operating base repairs, patrol base construction, electrical and plumbing operations, road repair and construction and route sanitation,” said Carter.
The last of those duties may be the most important as it mitigates the dangers of roadside bombs on the streets of Iraq.
Carter summarized the means necessary to achieve success in a manner that transfixed the audience with reverence and esteem. “Never forget the core ethos that guides our service. Always place the mission first. Never accept defeat, never surrender and never leave an American service member behind. If you honor those military traditions, there is no alternative but success.”
Lt. Col. Charles Cody, commander, 101st Engineer Battalion, recognized the demands of the mission which his unit has been entrusted and the critical role in our Nation’s overseas efforts. “I am proud and confident to say, standing in front of you today, that these are some of the best trained and best equipped Soldiers in the world. We will be successful. We will uphold the honor and history of the 101st Engineer Battalion,” said Cody.
Amidst a fly-over by two Blackhawk helicopters performed by the 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard - Speeches from elected officials and appointed leaders and the humbling presence of our Nation’s oldest war ship, the focus that the Soldiers were deploying to Iraq was never lost.
In the conclusion to his particularly passionate provision of prose, Maj. Gen. Carter addressed a matter weighing heavily on the minds of everyone in the audience.
“We will return to this historic place in one year’s time to celebrate your return, honor your service, and above all else, to thank you for following the path first struck by Citizen-Soldiers who gave of themselves on the Lexington Green and to those who continue our brave Citizen-Soldier tradition today to defend that sacred trust we call America.”