Today, the National Guard's 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion will become the 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion, still part of the 48th Brigade, with a ceremony at the battalion's headquarters, the Terrell Reddick Armory in Statesboro.
The armory will welcome visitors with an open house at 2 p.m. The transition ceremony begins at 3 p.m.
The change is part of an ongoing move to bulk up the engineering capabilities of infantry brigade combat teams throughout the Army, affecting active-duty as well as National Guard units, said Col. Randall Simmons. The Statesboro native became chief of staff of the Georgia Army National Guard in January and is returning to take part in today's ceremony.
"It's something that we definitely need," Simmons said. "You know, engineers provide us with mobility, counter-mobility, survivability, and in a brigade combat team, limited construction ability."
Planning for the change here began about two years ago. Simmons notes that, in addition to a federal mission in combat, National Guard personnel also have a state mission of responding to homeland emergencies.
"So a unit like this with additional engineering capability is just perfect for that," he said. "We'd be able to respond to any natural disaster, or any kind of disaster for that matter."
Visitors to the armory grounds today will see static displays of equipment ranging from heavy earth-moving machines to satellite communications gear and an unmanned aerial vehicle.
This is not the first change of identity for the National Guard's presence here. Elements of what was originally the 214th Coast Artillery were assigned to Statesboro from 1940 until the 2nd Battalion, 214th Field Artillery was replaced by the 648th Engineer Battalion in 1993. The Special Troops Battalion, with military police and personnel assigned to other specialized roles, as well as one engineer company, has been headquartered here since 2006.
Through it all, the unit has produced a number of ranking leaders in the Georgia Army National Guard, said Col. Reginald Neal, commander of the 48th Brigade, headquartered in Macon.
"That unit in Statesboro has a long and proud history, and a lot of great leaders have come up through that armory," said Neal, who called the battalion "a leadership factory."
Neal's first assignment as a lieutenant was with the old 2/214th in Statesboro. Past officers Neal mentioned as having served with distinction include Fred Shaver, who retired from the National Guard with the rank of brigadier general, and the late Brig. Gen. Terrell T. Reddick, for whom the armory is named.
Lt. Col. Kris Marshall, who through Friday commanded the Special Troops Battalion, will be commander of the new 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion when the ceremony is complete.
Mainly through reassignments, the battalion is adding a second engineer company, plus some jobs in its forward support company. The transformation will not add many soldiers. But some of the same soldiers are being assigned to new technical tasks and leadership roles, requiring either new training or skills they have acquired in their civilian careers, Marshall said.
Metter armory returns
With about 700 soldiers, the battalion makes up about one-fifth of the 48th Brigade. The Statesboro armory houses the battalion's headquarters, but the Special Troops Battalion also included companies of soldiers at the Glennville, Macon and Forest Park armories. To become the 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion, it is adding the armories in Douglas and Metter.
"So it allows us to support those communities as well, by being involved with the schools, the families," Marshall said. "You know, a lot of these communities are where our soldiers live and work 28 days out of the month."
Except when deployed, most National Guard soldiers report for duty two days a month plus two weeks of annual training. The battalion has just 26 full-time staff. Even Marshall has a civilian job, operating a residential remodeling company. The battalion's senior enlisted noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Logan, works in security at a nuclear power plant.
Logan, who has been in the National Guard 30 years, said today's ceremony, establishing a new unit, is a rarity.
"We're going to make history," he said Friday. "It's phenomenal, and I will tell you, a lot of these soldiers here have never seen this, and once they do it tomorrow, they'll probably never see it again."
Of course, the unit has been involved in more dangerous history making. Some of these same soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan as recently as last year, when they prepared three bases for transfer back to the Afghan government. In the earlier years of Operation Enduring Freedom, the battalion expanded those bases.
The 177th's executive officer, Maj. Abby Walker of Glennville, one of the full-timers, oversaw creation of a new memorial to the seven soldiers who died on duty with the unit in its two previous incarnations.
Completed Thursday night, the display occupies a section of wall inside the armory with photos of the heroes, each beneath a gold star. They surround a larger silhouette, cut from heavy aluminum and painted black, of a soldier kneeling before the traditional battlefield memorial of rifle, helmet and empty boots.
"Whether we knew them or not – and a lot of these guys did know them – we wanted something out here to just kind of show that we think about them every day, whether it's them or another fallen soldier that we did know," Walker said.
The families of the fallen soldiers, Gold Star families, have been invited for the ceremony.
"They are a part of us and they will always be a part of us," Marshall said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.