The return of the Army National Guard’s 178th Combat Engineers from Afghanistan signals not just a return of soldiers to family, but the latest – and possibly last – chapter in the incredible service of area guardsmen and reservists called to active duty since 9/11.
“When you hear people use the phrase ‘a hero’s welcome,’ this is exactly what they’re talking about,” said Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., the state adjutant general. “These courageous South Carolinians deployed to Afghanistan at a crucial time and successfully accomplished a vital mission.
“We thank their families for their sacrifices and proudly join them in celebrating today’s homecoming.”
In this deployment, 161 soldiers in the battalion based at the Rock Hill armory were tasked with construction, road clearance, convoy security and other duties.
The unit’s top commanders were in charge of Task Force Prowler in eastern Afghanistan, based in Sharana. The task force included more than 700 soldiers from units from around the country.
The 178th cleared more than 10,000 miles of roads on 47 missions. Others soldiers from the unit assisted other Army units and trained Afghan troops.
The 178th’s maintenance crew was responsible for keeping tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment operable.
Many soldiers were on second, third or fourth deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No troops from the 178th were killed in action, but four soldiers attached to the task force and working with area soldiers – three reservists from New York, and one active duty soldier from Indiana – were killed by insurgents.
Lt. Col. Corol Dobson, commander of the 178th in peacetime and in Afghanistan, described the service of all four volunteer soldiers as “courageous” in giving their lives in the battle against terrorism.
In a speech to the troops at the transfer of command two weeks ago, Dobson told the 178th soldiers why they had been deployed again to do such dangerous work: “You were chosen because you are the best.”
Command Sgt. Major Joe Medlin, the highest ranking enlisted man in the battalion, has described the performance of the 178th soldiers as “incredible.”
With the war in Iraq over and Afghanistan troop withdrawals under way, it is likely that no other guard or reserve units will be deployed from this area.
But almost a thousand citizen soldiers from York, Chester and Lancaster counties have been deployed to combat or been on active duty at one time or another since days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
• Soldiers from the Rock Hill armory, which is headquarters for Army National Guard units in Fort Mill, Chester, Lancaster and Wellford, have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them more than once.
• Fort Mill’s unit was deployed three times, once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
• Lancaster’s unit served a year in Iraq.
• Many Chester soldiers were sent to Kosovo.
• York’s Army Reserve unit served a year in Afghanistan.
• Rock Hill’s Army Reserve unit, later disbanded, served a year in Iraq.
Soldiers from the 178th also have performed several domestic Homeland Security tasks on active duty, including security at airports around the United States after 9/11, construction of the border wall with Mexico and humanitarian and construction aid after storms in the Northeast.
Hundreds more local troops served active duty enlistments in all branches of the military.
Sgt. Shawn Hill, a soldier from Spartanburg who was part of the 178th, was killed in Iraq in 2008. Other area Guard and Reserve soldiers were wounded in both wars.
Six regular troops who were residents of York and Chester counties were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during deployments since the wars started – Paul Neff II, Pat Leach, Kenneth James Butler, T.J. Dudley, Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker.
Area soldiers built schools, hospitals, roads, and military and civilian compounds in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Local troops trained thousands of Iraqi and Afghan troops.
Area soldiers had security, convoy safety, military police, bomb clearance, and other duties that spanned Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dozens of area soldiers received Bronze Stars and other awards for meritorious service. The units received commendations from military leaders for service, bravery, and dedication.
During the latest deployment, soldiers of the 178th battalion were awarded 15 Combat Action Badges, one Combat Medic Badge, 14 Bronze Star Medals including one for valor, six Meritorious Service Medals and 125 Army Commendation Medals. The unit has also been awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation.
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