Sgt. Jaime De Leon
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
Col. Patrick D. Frank assumed command of 3rd Brigade Combat Team while five of the brigade’s six battalions welcomed new commanders during a consolidated change of command ceremony Friday on Sexton Field.
The ceremony marked a drastic change for the Spartan Soldiers of 3rd BCT. Having returned from a yearlong deployment in December, Soldiers now stand ready to begin their training for yet another deployment, with nearly all new commanders.
Until Friday, 3rd BCT was under the command of Col. David Haight, whose next assignment will take him to the Pentagon.
“As he inherits 3,500 of my best friends, I can’t think of anyone in the Army that I want to succeed more than Col. Pat Frank,” Haight said.
Soldiers from each battalion stood in formation, their guidons proudly in front. A guidon, or flag representing a unit, traditionally is carried onto the battlefield. One at a time, each battalion command sergeant major passed the guidon to the outgoing commander, who then passed it to Haight. As commanders passed their guidon for the last time, they symbolically passed on the authority they held in their battalion. Haight then gave the guidon to the new commander, and with it, the authority over that battalion.
Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, were the first to bid farewell to their commander and greet a new one as Lt. Col. Mark O’Donnell passed command to Lt. Col. Kenneth J. Mintz.
“To the remarkable Chosin command team of Lt. Col. Mark O’Donnell and (his wife) Lauren, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Carabello, there is no tougher battalion in our Army. No parent would want to give away his child, nor commander want to give away a subordinate unit,” said Haight, referring to allowing 1-32 Infantry to fall under the command of another task force during Operation Enduring Freedom IX and X. “I hope, one day, you’ll forgive me for that, but for many reasons, you were the right choice, and nobody would have made a bigger difference in Konar (Province, Afghanistan,) than you did.”
The next battalion to make the transition was 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, which received Lt. Col. Gregory K. Anderson while saying goodbye to Lt. Col. Kimo Gallahue.
“To the fabulous Catamount command team of Lt. Col. Kimo Gallahue and (his wife) Kristy, and Command Sgt. Maj. (Andrew) Spano, you were given the toughest mission in the most lethal battle space and you defeated a determined enemy every day,” Haight said. “You were the right unit to dominate Wardak (Province, Afghanistan), and you made a lasting difference, as you gave that province back to its rightful owners – the Afghans.”
The 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, was the only one of the six units to not pass the guidon, with Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen staying in command.
“To the tremendous Titan team in (3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment) Lt. Col. Tom Gukeisen, his wife Kate, and Command Sgt. Maj. (Ralph) and Julie DeLosa, you placed your guidons deepest in the enemy territory in Logar (Province, Afghanistan) and defied some of the most dangerous people in the world. You always did more with less, which is the culture of the (cavalry) squadrons nowadays, and accomplished what could not have occurred without your raw courage,” Haight said.
Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, were next to make the transition. Lt. Col. Mike Gabel passed the guidon for the last time, and it was received by Lt. Col. Christopher Taylor.
“To the fantastic Wolfpack command team, of the finest light artillery battalion in the Army, Lt. Col. Mike Gabel and (his wife) Jeannine, and Command Sgt. Maj. (Robert) and Beth Lehtonen. Aside from what your organization was designed to do, I asked so much more from you than I had a right to. And, you delivered so much more than I had a right to expect. Nobody does it better,” Haight said.
The 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion then made its transition from being under the command of Lt. Col. Steve Pitt to the command of Lt. Col. Lee Clark.
“To the fabulous Vanguard command team of Lt. Col. Steve and Sherri Pitt and Command Sgt. Maj. (Ronald) and Janet Johnson, you enabled the BCT to realize every success. Everything your battalion ever touched turned to gold. You also delivered more than I ever had a right to ask, and you delivered way beyond what any commander could ever expect,” Haight said.
The 710th Brigade Support Battalion was the last to bid farewell. Lt. Col. Eugene Shearer left his battalion in the capable hands of Lt. Col. Jered Helwig.
“To the steady and stalwart Spartan Support team of Lt. Col. Gene and Hey Jin Shearer, and Command Sgt. Maj. (Shelton) Williamson, I told you that your support was like oxygen to the BCT. Without you, we would die. We never suffocated, not even ever short of breath,” Haight said. “You sustained us with abundance, and your country is proud of the difference you made.”
After battalions made their transitions, Haight and Frank took their positions at the front of the field. Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers, command sergeant major of 3rd BCT, was unable to attend, and his place was filled by Sgt. Maj. Richard Speedie, operations sergeant major for 3rd BCT.
Haight received 3rd BCT’s guidon one last time before handing it to Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, who then passed it to Frank.
“Eisenhower said that, ‘Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.’ I would like to dedicate this change of command ceremony to the 31 Spartans who fell and the 270 wounded on the battlefield in Afghanistan,” Haight said.
Haight, who spent more than two years in command of 3rd BCT, also thanked the many members of the Spartan staff who helped make his job a little easier.
“To Lt. Col. Jeff Long and the Spartan staff, you met every request and demand with enthusiasm and optimism. You were the mortar in every brick of success that the BCT laid,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity of having, as a battle buddy, the most competent, confident, quietly professional Soldier serving today in our Army.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Byers, your advice was always right, and that’s all a commander could ask for,” Haight said. We’ve hunted both Taliban and white-tailed deer together, and I have a feeling we’ll do it again someday.”
Haight saved special thanks for the Spartan Soldiers.
“We read and hear a lot about the great improvements in technology, weapons, and equipment, but the real deciding factor is our Soldiers, our warriors,” he said. “The Soldier is our center of gravity and nothing ever happened in the Spartan Brigade until a (noncommissioned officer) turned to a private and said ‘execute.’
“To the magnificent NCOs (who) really do the hard work, there’s a reason y’all are called the backbone of the Army, but you’re also the heartbeat, the life blood and the very soul of this great Army of ours. Our NCO Corps is the envy of allied armies and the fear of our adversaries the world over. I was the one who was supposed to teach you, but you taught me every day. But, even our NCOs can’t do it without our beloved Soldiers.
“They are the proud few who looked the enemies of your nation in the face and engaged them with direct fire,” he continued. “... They scaled the mountains of Afghanistan, hand over foot. They fell off the cliffs. They know only one direction – to advance toward the enemy. They shivered all night in the drizzling rain. They earned the valor awards. They walked for endless miles in training and in combat. They trained the Afghan Army and Police. They walked all night through the stream bed to get to the weapons cache.
“They drove the perilous roads. They fixed the radio. They learned the language. They missed the meal. They adapted when the mission changed for the 15th time. They fixed the truck. They dug the trench. They searched for the lost. They hid in the snow. They learned the people and loved the people. Sometimes, they were betrayed by the people. They won a lot, and lost a little.
“They did the paperwork, they called for mortars, they called for artillery, and they called for close-air support. They, unfortunately, called for the (medical evacuation), but they never called in sick. They laughed, they cried, they were bored, and they were always tired. But, they never quit, they never accepted defeat, and they never left a fallen comrade. To them, I owe the greatest gratitude. Thank you, Spartans,” Haight said.
The Spartans’ new commander kept his remarks brief.
“To the Soldiers on the field, it is a great privilege to take command of the Spartan Brigade Combat Team,” Frank said. “The BCT has a tremendous reputation throughout the Army for being a disciplined, physically fit and professional team of light-fighters that lives the Warrior Ethos.
“It is my honor to fight by your sides, as together we answer our nation’s call and write the next chapter of Spartan history,” he added.