Spartan Brigade welcomes new commander
June 21, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Col. Patrick D. Frank passed the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's colors to Col. Sam E. Whitehurst during a change of command ceremony Friday on Sexton Field. With the Spartan Brigade Soldiers in formation on the parade field, Frank bade farewell to the troops who had followed him into combat.
"The disciplined light fighters you see standing on the parade field did what had not been accomplished in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan," Frank said. "They defeated the Taliban in Mullah Omar's home districts of Zharay and Maiwand, providing the Afghan people with the opportunity to seize freedom."
During his farewell speech, Frank emphasized how the Army's Warrior Ethos -- "I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade" -- was a guiding principle for several Spartan Soldiers who earned valorous awards during the deployment. Calling these Soldiers true American heroes, Frank conveyed the stories of several Soldiers who had saved others' lives through their personal courage.
"In the Battle of Jogram, the Taliban attempted to overwhelm a dismounted platoon from (2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment). An enemy force of 30 Taliban fighters pinned down the U.S. element with a heavy volume of fire," Frank said. "Spc. Justin Yagel of 3-71 Cavalry courageously began to fire his 60 mm mortar at the Taliban position. As the battle began to tip, the M-240B machine gun ran out of ammunition. Spc. Yagel ran to the position and resupplied the machine gun crew. This action was instrumental in the defeat of the large Taliban force."
The outgoing commander also thanked the brigade's battalion commanders and command sergeants major for upholding standards and training disciplined and skilled war fighters. Through their leadership, he said, the battalions were at the tip of the spear in all of the Spartan battlefield victories.
Families played a behind-the-scenes role in supporting family readiness groups, sending care packages and being the backbone of the Spartan Soldiers. During his speech to the Soldiers, Families and dignitaries who attended the ceremony, Frank said the Army owes its strength to Families.
"The Soldiers on the field today are the strength of our Army -- their Families sitting in the reviewing area are the strength of our nation. It is not easy being an Army Family. The Spartan Families here today have shouldered the burden of our combat deployment, courageously supporting their Soldier," Frank said.
During his remarks, Frank recognized the ultimate sacrifices of the 38 fallen Spartans who died during the brigade's latest deployment to Afghanistan, as well as the Soldiers who stood before him on the parade field carrying on the Army Values of their fallen comrades.
"We will never forget the sacrifices of our Soldiers and their Families in achieving the BCT's battlefield victories. Our 38 fallen Spartans defeated Taliban forces on their home terrain, providing visible progress to the Afghan people for the first time in 30 years," Frank said. "Our fallen and wounded Spartans have an honored role in the brigade's history and will not be forgotten."
"To the Soldiers of the Spartan Brigade, it was my honor to fight by your side, as the brigade combat team answered our nation's call and wrote the next chapter of Spartan history -- every Spartan Soldier contributed to victory," he continued.
The day was by no means all about good-byes. As Frank continues his career at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., the brigade welcomed its new commander as he addressed them from the podium.
"It is also great to be standing here and joining the Spartan team today," Whitehurst said. "I had the opportunity to watch firsthand the Soldiers of this brigade during their (Joint Readiness Training Center) rotation just before they deployed to Afghanistan. …You are supposed to be impartial and dispassionate about the different units that come through there, but that was impossible with the Spartan Brigade. The discipline, esprit de corps and adherence to high standards demonstrated by these Soldiers was infectious, and I think by the end of their rotation if we could have, many of the (observer-controllers) -- myself included -- would have signed up on the spot to be Spartan riflemen.
"It is both an honor and humbling to be given the opportunity to lead these great Soldiers and join the Spartan Family," Whitehurst said.
Picking up on Frank's earlier recognition of communities surrounding Fort Drum and nearby civic organizations for the support they offered to both 3rd BCT and Fort Drum, Whitehurst pledged to continue the brigade's partnerships with local organizations.
"I may change a few things; I'm not changing that one," he said. "We're going to continue the great work Col. Frank did in building upon those relationships with the local community."
Whitehurst is no stranger to Fort Drum, having served with 10th Mountain Division from 1995 to 1998 as a company commander who deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina. He previously was assigned to the National War College in Washington, D.C., as well as various units in 25th Infantry Division.
"It's great to be back here at Fort Drum -- both the people (who) form the backbone of this installation and the people of the entire North Country community have had a lasting impact on me and my Family," he said. "As a company commander deploying to Bosnia 15 years ago, we were able to see firsthand how an installation and community comes together to support our deployed Soldiers and their Families.
"Returning here with my Family today, I can tell that the strong partnership between the division, the installation and the local community still serves as an example to the rest of the Army on how to take care of our Soldiers and Families," he added.
Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, also addressed the troops who returned only three months ago from the deserts of southern Afghanistan and reminded the new commander of his responsibility.
"It's really not about Pat Frank; it's really not about Sam Whitehurst. It's really about those colors. It's really about those Soldiers on the field and the orderly, seamless transition of competent command from one great officer to another," Milley said.
"There is not greater honor for those of us who are commissioned officers to be given the incredible responsibility of command. We do not give command lightly. Brigade command is a very, very small circle of selectees. It is earned through proven performance and demonstration of potential. The responsibility for a brigade commander is awesome."
With the 3rd BCT's colors passed, brigade Soldiers marched past Frank one last time as the new commander of troops ordered "Pass and review!" and prepared to write another chapter of Spartan history.