Friday, January 25, 2008

Governor Bids Farewell to Deploying NY Guard

BY Eric Durr

LATHAM, N.Y. -- More than 1,400 New York Army National Guard Citizen-Soldiers bound for Afghanistan formally bid farewell to their friends and family Jan. 16 at deployment ceremonies held across the state.

In Syracuse, at a farewell ceremony at the headquarters of the 27th Brigade Combat Team, Gov. Eliot Spitzer praised the Soldiers and invoked the words of former president and New York governor, Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt often said that the credit belonged to "the man who was actually in the arena," Spitzer said.

"These men and women have chosen to enter the most difficult and dangerous arena of all," the governor said. "They have chosen to put their lives and personal safety on the line so their fellow citizens can be protected.

"The enemies the 27th Brigade will face do not understand freedom and liberty as Americans do, and want to take us back in time hundreds of years," Spitzer said. "There is no finer calling than to prevent that and to protect the American way of life."

While the Soldiers are deployed the state will watch out for their families, the governor promised. He also promised to do all he could to get a law enacted that would grant State University of New York tuition to any veteran from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Major General Joseph Taluto, the Adjutant General and commander of the New York Army National Guard, urged the Soldiers to do their jobs and watch out for each other.

"Focus on your mission, never compromise your standards and watch out for each other every day," Taluto said.

Although the Governor and Adjutant General attended the Syracuse ceremony at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, nine ceremonies were held across the state ranging from 35 Soldiers saying goodbye at the Connecticut Avenue Army to 130 Soldiers of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry bidding farewell at Suffolk County Community College Sports Center. Other farewells occurred in Rochester, New York City, Ithaca and at Camp Smith in the Hudson Valley.

Because the deploying members of the brigade come from all over New York State, the decision was made to have ceremonies in the places the soldiers are coming from, said 27 BCT Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Col. Paul Fanning.

Col. Brian Balfe, the 27th BCT commander, evoked the history of the brigade and urged his Soldiers to follow in the footsteps of the 27th Division of World War I and II. He also praised the brigade Soldiers for never faltering during the ten month train-up that brought them to the deployment.

"Everything we have done in the 27th and will do here forward will be done as a team," Balfe said.

Staff Sgt. James Hudson, a computer repair specialist in the brigade headquarters said he was ready to go, do the job and come home. He wasn't looking forward to leaving his family, but he was ready to do an important job.

Staff Sergeant Mathew Storm, a member of the brigade logistics section, received a coin from Gov. Spitzer. He said it was exciting to meet the governor face-to-face and good of him to come see the brigade's Soldiers off.

"It shows he cares about the National Guard," Storm said.

The 27th BCT will head to their mobilization station at Fort Bragg, N.C., prior to deploying for duties in Afghanistan.

The Soldiers will be responsible for assisting in training the Afghan National Army and assisting the Afghan government. Another portion of the brigade task force will train at Fort Riley, Kan., to prepare for duties as embedded training teams alongside Afghan forces.

Nearly 300 Soldiers of the 27th Brigade were already called to federal active duty in the fall of 2007 for this mission. A total of 1,700 New York National Guard troops are being deployed for Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VII in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, making this mission and this deployment the largest in New York during the support to the war on terror.

The total active duty deployment time for the troops is expected to be one year and will include about two months of training at bases in the U.S. and 10 months duty in theater.

In addition to the 27th Brigade Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VII will include personnel from the 106th Regional Training Institute, the 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry, the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry, the 69th Infantry Battalion and the 427th Forward Support Battalion.

More than 6,000 members of the New York Army National Guard have been called to federal active duty for service mostly in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003. Deployment levels peaked in 2004, when more than 3,500 troops assigned to nearly a dozen different units were on duty. About 600 New York National Guard Soldiers are presently serving on active duty.