By Staff Sgt. Timothy HughesDecember 19, 2013
FORT SILL Okla. (Dec. 19, 2013) -- After the unit served for nearly a century, Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Field Artillery, ceremoniously stood shoulder-to-shoulder while under its colors for a final time during the unit's deactivation ceremony Dec. 11 at Rinehart Fitness Center here.
The ceremony marked the culmination of the Paladin battalion's mission and impact within the ranks of the Army.
"This is a very historic unit," said Col. Michael Eastman, 75th Fires Brigade commander. "It's been in practically every major war that this country's fought from World War I to today."
As the current generation of "Copperhead" Battalion Soldiers stood in formation, many retired veterans and former members of the unit witnessed the historic event from the viewing stands.
One of those witnesses, retired Col. Ralph Melcher, a Lawton native, commanded the unit while serving in the Republic of Korea from 1967 to 1968. It was outfitted as an 8-inch self-propelled howitzer battalion.
"During that time, the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea," said Melcher. "At the same time, North Korea sent a group of insurgents down to try and assassinate the South Korean president down in Seoul.
"It made for an interesting time it's a great honor to have commanded the first of the 17th," he said.
The battalion earned many awards and battle streamers as its legacy was built through the sacrifices of those who served under its colors. The unit conducted worldwide military operations in Germany, Italy, North Africa, France, the Korean peninsula, and more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The battle streamers that hang from the colors tell the story all by themselves," said Eastman.
Maj. Jamie Allen, 1-17th FA commander, said many Soldiers have died while serving in the unit.
"Through all of this, the battalion has always served its nation with pride," said Allen, after reflecting on the history of the unit.
Although the deactivation of the battalion means the "Tough As Diamonds" Brigade will have a decrease in its manpower and as its force structure is realigned, the Soldiers will not be involuntarily separated from the Army.
Many of the battalion's Soldiers will be sent to various units that are in need of their skill sets. Also, battalion leaders anticipate some of the Soldiers will be assigned to fill various positions that are available within the brigade.
Eastman added Army restructuring is an ongoing process that is adjusted as its leaders make decisions about what kind of structure it needs and how it should best use the money and the people who serve the nation.
Although the unit was aware of pending deactivation orders for several months, Soldiers continually trained and kept qualified on core requirements, such as how to fire a howitzer to how to initiate and receive a call-for-fire mission.
"Artillery says, 'shoot, move and communicate,' so we are sending Soldiers out with that skill," said Capt. Garrison Haning. "Every Soldier here is going to be a tremendous asset to their next unit."