FORT BLISS, Texas -- Nearly 100 New York Army Reserve engineers, assigned to 444th Eng. Co., 479th Eng. Bn., 411th Eng. Bde., 412th Theater Engineer Command, returned Saturday, Jan. 26, after an 11-month deployment in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Maj. Gen. William M. Buckler, Jr., commanding general of 412th TEC, led the 412th delegation in welcoming home Capt. Donald Oeschlin, commander of 444th Eng. Co., and the brave troops from the Empire State.
Buckler was joined by Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Hatchell, interim CSM for the TEC and CSM for 926th Eng. Bde., Col. John Seeley, provisional commander of 411th Eng. Bde., Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Oddo, interim CSM for 411th and CSM for 365th Eng. Bn., Lt. Col. Reginald Truss, commander of 479th Eng. Bn., and Master Sgt. Cory Chartier.
Oeschlin, in recounting the unit's achievements while deployed in Regional Command-North, Afghanistan, proudly pointed to the fact that the 444th Eng. Co. not only was awarded the combat action streamer, but was also submitted for the Meritorious Unit Commendation and Valorous Unit Award.
The Valorous Unit Award, which is the second highest unit decoration (Presidential Unit Citation is the highest), is considered the unit equivalent to the Silver Star. The award is presented to a unit that displays extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States.
"Quite frankly the Soldiers made it happen. They did what others thought was not possible. The family support that was developed throughout pre-mob and during mobilization was absolutely phenomenal. The companies came together and supported each other as a whole family. That, and with hard work and dedication, made this mission possible," said Oeschlin.
"I am extremely proud of the Soldiers of the 444th Engineer Company. The company as a whole made a difference by allowing freedom of movement not only for maneuver elements but also the local nationals of the province," he added.
The 444th completed more than 270 missions that covered 16,000 square kilometers in the northern part of Afghanistan, conducted mounting, dismounting and air assault operations, found and cleared 28 Improvised Explosive Devices, and engaged with the enemy 14 times while executing their mission requirements.
The route clearance unit, for meritorious, heroic and valorous actions, was awarded 64 Combat Action Badges, two Combat Medical Badges, 13 Purple Hearts, 28 Bronze Stars, five Bronze Star with Valor, two Army Commendation Medals with Valor and 63 Army Commendation Medals.
Oeschlin and his Soldiers will spend several days here to complete demobilization procedures before heading home to New York to be with their families.
Although the unit is based in Oswego, the Soldiers represent hometowns and communities throughout the state, to include Canton and Canadaguia.