By ZACHAca,!E+MORGAN, Guardian staff writerAugust 31, 2009
FORT POLK, La. -- A 15-month deployment culminated in a ceremony on 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Field Aug. 21 for the 115th Combat Support Hospital. The redeployment ceremony was coupled with a change of command and change of responsibility for Col. John McGrath, 115th commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Shirley Hunt.
"It's great to see those colors unfurl back on U.S. soil," said Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. "We give a hero's welcome to the warrior medics of the 115th who've just redeployed from combat in Iraq, and celebrate the impact they had on saving lives in Baghdad."
Yarbrough praised McGrath and Hunt for their accomplishments with the unit. "We congratulate and bid farewell to the command team who got them ready and deployed them -- and welcome the new command team, Col. Patricia Darnauer and Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Motes, who will team up to write the next chapter in the warrior medics' history."
Yarbrough explained the significance of the deployment. "We have to understand what these Soldiers have done for our country," he said. "They volunteered to serve in a time of war. One in 10 Americans served in the military during World War II, and only one in 300 serve today. We Soldiers get it: That region of the world must remain stable. It will have an immediate and catastrophic effect on our country if it doesn't. Never forget the importance of this deployment."
Before the 115th shipped off to Iraq, it set an Army-wide standard by conducting a mission readiness exercise at JRTC. No other combat support hospital in the Army had done one before.
During the deployment, the unit provided primary care for 14,000 Soldiers at camps Bucca, Cropper and Taji, and introduced American standards of health care to Iraq's detention facilities.
They implemented physical exam protocols and developed surgical, orthopedic and tuberculosis clinics in response to detainee needs. The detainee health care mission had a tangible impact on the campaign. "In providing health care for 30,000 detainees, they were ambassadors for everything that's good about America," Yarbrough said.
McGrath explained the gravity of the medical mission. "While we were there, 25,000 detainees were released from confinement and violence in Iraq decreased," he said. "For 15 months we changed the detainees by taking care of them. When they went home to their families, they could not say that Americans were evil -- they had to say we cared for them.
"Our mission was diverse," said McGrath. "We had health service support at four different bases: We cared for Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf, set up a new hospital and provided care for 5,000 detainees and area support at Camp Taji, managed a hospital at Camp Victory which provided care to 3,500 detainees and 40,000 Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, and our southernmost post at Camp Bucca cared for 22,000 detainees and 12,000 coalition forces."
Yarbrough commended the 115th on a well-executed mission. "During Colonel McGrath and Command Sergeant Major Hunts' tenure they prepared the unit to deploy -- a tough task on a tight timeline -- and led them into combat and brought them home," he said. "Not one Soldier was killed by the enemy."
Col. Patricia Darnauer, who comes to Fort Polk from an assignment at the Pentagon, took the helm of the 115th. "We're excited to welcome Colonel Darnauer to the Fort Polk command team, along with Command Sergeant Major Motes," Yarbrough said. "Colonel Darnauer's credentials are superior. She's had every hard job as a Medical Service Corps officer, commanding at the platoon, company and battalion level, and plenty of time in clinical assignments and hospitals. She couldn't be more prepared to take command today." Yarbrough concluded by issuing a charge to the new command team. "We look forward to you bringing the 115th to the next level in the months and years to come," he said.
Darnauer concluded the ceremony by issuing her first speech to her new command.
"I am honored to be entrusted with command of such a proud, well-trained unit with a battle-tested Warrior Ethos," she said. "Being on the field today was most likely not a personal choice, but the appreciation of tradition and devotion to professionalism they demonstrate highlights their commitment to Army values. Command Sergeant Major Motes and I look forward to the rewards and challenges ahead with great enthusiasm."