CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. (Sept. 24, 2012) -- Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal and Gen. John Vessey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured Camp Ripley, Sept. 22. The visit was the first for Westphal and gave him time to meet Soldiers and receive a background of the Minnesota National Guard.
The tour began with Westphal meeting with the leaders of the Minnesota National Guard, officials of the Army Reserves, and Vessey to discuss the topics of working toward optimal force structures and the importance of accountability within a fiscally constrained environment.
"I came here because I am really trying to get greater footing and understanding of what you bring to the fight, and how we need to support," said Westphal.
The undersecretary took time to meet Soldiers of the 34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion and 1st Squadron 94th Cavalry as they conducted 90-day reintegration events including container operations, supply inventories and periodic health assessments.
The two battalions have recently returned from a deployment as a part of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, who spent time in Kuwait in 2011-2012 providing base management, regional security and convoy security during the drawdown phase of Operation New Dawn in Iraq.
"To see the kind of skill, talent and professionalism we find in our forces is important to me," said Westphal. "Meeting Soldiers is a great thing that this job allows me to do, the second thing this job allows me to do is to recognize our Soldiers especially in their times of valor."
Three Soldiers of the 1st Squadron 94th Cavalry were recognized by the Under Secretary and Col. Eric Kerska, former commander of the 1/34th BCT, with one of the highest awards a Soldier can receive.
The Soldiers Medal is awarded to those who conduct valorous acts involving personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.
The award was presented to Staff Sgt. Nicholas Purkat, Sgt. Shawn Schmidt and Spc. Christopher Edwards, who pulled Iraqi civilians from the burning wreckage of two vehicles after they had collided, and additionally helped the wounded receive care and transportation to a local hospital. The Soldiers performed the heroic acts Nov. 11, 2011, while deployed in support of Operation New Dawn.
"To them, acting quickly like that as sort of a natural reaction that comes only from people whose values and norms and training have been such that they were willing to do that," said Westphal. "That says a lot about our country, in addition to what it says about these three individuals Soldiers."
After the awards ceremony, a press conference was held with Westphal and members of the local media.
The visit concluded withKerska giving the Under Secretary an overview of the 1/34th BCT deployment.
"It was an honor to have the Under Secretary at Camp Ripley," said Camp Ripley Post Commander Col. Scott St. Sauver. "His interaction with the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and interest in the National Guard and Reserve is critical to current discussions affecting the future of our Army."