Company B Medical Battalion lauded for service

Company B Medical Battalion lauded for service
People who attended Friday's ceremony in Vermillion to honor 40 South Dakota Army National Guard soldiers of the Company B 109th Medical Battalion learned that their loved ones put themselves in harm's way to help treat Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers wounded in battle.

"This is one of the finest units that I've ever been associated with," said SFC Mark Thomas, the event's master of ceremonies. "The professionalism of each soldier, and their leadership reminded me of why I wanted to be a soldier in the first place."

A pleasant South Dakota breeze comforted the people who gathered in the in the armory, a one story brick building surrounded by green grass and the shade of several trees. Outside was the sounds of birds singing and traffic on nearby streets.

This day of celebration didn't include searing temperatures well above 100 degrees, nor sand storms, nor the rumble of heavy Humvees.

The success of Company B, said LTC Mark Johnston of Pierre, is living proof of the support the unit receives from family, employers and the soldiers themselves.

"You all live up to that responsibility every single day," he said. "The soldiers can't do their jobs without knowing that their families are taken care of. The soldiers can't do their job without knowing that everything at home is okay."

He added that employee-support of South Dakota Guard soldiers has been tremendous.

"Over the last three years, over 90 percent of our soldiers have been deployed," Johnston said. "And the employers, in their own way, are serving their country as well by giving their employees all of the support they need."

Several South Dakota companies continued to offer medical benefits to deployed soldiers' families, and helped make up any difference between their regular pay and their military pay. he said.

Company B is made up of people from a vast career field, including physician assistants, nurses, emergency medical technicians, x-ray technicians and mechanics.

"The one thing that ties that all together," Johnston said, "is they are professionals. They are professionals in their civilian careers, and they are professionals in their military jobs.

"Today's activities are about excellent people performing excellent jobs," he said.

The Combat Action Badge provides special recognition to soldiers who personally engage the enemy, or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations.

"The majority of the soldiers of this unit were engaged by the enemy numerous times," said SSG Ron Boone. "Keep that in mind. They didn't just engage the enemy once and get the award. Many of them were involved in conflicts several times."

The National Guard soldiers treated several people, both civilian and in the armed forces, who suffered injuries following mortar attacks and automatic weapon fire.

Company B was deployed to Iraq from April 7, 2003 through March 28, 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During its deployment, Company B was tasked with providing medical care to Coalition Forces and Iraqi prisoners as well as maintaining troop medical clinics in their assigned areas.�

After the ceremony, beginning at 5 p.m., military unit members and their families were served and a prime rib dinner, and later that evening, a social was held at the Eagles in Vermillion.

Since the 2001 terrorist attack on America, the South Dakota National Guard has mobilized approximately 2,800 soldiers and 750 airmen in support of the global war on terror. During the peak of deployments, South Dakota had more than 1,500 soldiers in Iraq at one time.

Currently, approximately 185 soldiers and airmen from the South Dakota National Guard remain on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 3,500 National Guard men and women are still serving in a non-active duty status in South Dakota and continue to provide support for state and national emergencies and homeland defense.

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