More than 600 citizen soldiers in uniform showed up Saturday in rural, western York County as the 178th Combat Engineers of the S.C. Army National Guard changed commanders.
The guard has deployed almost all of those area men and women who stood at attention Saturday to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Africa and elsewhere since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On Saturday the trees whipped in the wind. The silence was endless. The spot was not picked for its remote location, though.
It is the same spot where citizen-soldier patriots defeated the British army in 1780. The Battle of Huck’s Defeat helped create America.
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Saturday, Col. Corol Dobson who led the 178th in two tours in Afghanistan, the most recent ending in May, turned over command to Maj. Kevin Berry, who was in Afghanistan with Dobson and all those soldiers.
The words of Brig. Gen. Roy McCarty, deputy adjutant general of the S.C. Army National Guard, echoed from the wall of old oaks that maybe were there when the United States was created. He talked after re-enactors dressed like the militia of 1780 carried the American flag. All in attendance stood, silently, and watched past and present armies of fathers- and husbands- and workers-turned-soldiers unite.
“There is not a more fitting place for this, where the citizen soldiers of today put down their plowshares – or their equivalents today – and went to serve their country on the battlefield,” McCarty said.
The words kept sounding in that country setting. The echoes seemed to pound. It meant something, all these soldiers who fought in the deserts and rocks of Afghanistan and Iraq, to stand together where America began.
“Our nation was formed in places just like this, by soldiers just like you,” said Col. Charles Moore.
The soldiers stood at attention, from armories in Rock Hill and Fort Mill and Chester, Lancaster and Wellford, and they seemed to be giants. Because they were.
Dobson, who will take a new job with a Lowcountry unit, described the 178th soldiers as “the absolute very best anywhere.” Dobson, with a Dick Tracy jaw,looked at those soldiers and said, “You are the heroes – not me.”
Berry, 41, was executive officer during the last deployment when 161 of these soldiers were sent to Afghanistan. In two deployments, two of his three sons were born.
“Every soldier in this battalion has done the same thing and answered the call,” Berry said. “I have been in combat with them, and they are truly great soldiers. They are the one-tenth of one percent, the very best – anywhere.”
Spc. Courtney Strong, went on route-clearing missions and other dangerous duties under Berry’s command in Afghanistan.
“He’s tough and demanding – but he’s very well respected,” Strong said. “I worked for him in Afghanistan. Maj. Berry is the kind of leader who earned respect from his soldiers by example.”
The 178th has earned almost every honor there is from the Army since Sept. 11. Its soldiers have earned dozens of Bronze Stars for valor – Berry is one of them. It is unclear when it will next be deployed, or where the unit will go. But Dobson said he leaves the 178th in the capable hands of Berry, the new commander, to get the unit ready.
“And I know that he will do it,” Dobson said. “The 178th is always ready.”
The unit’s record speaks for itself. Few, maybe no, reserve battalions of its size in America have been deployed as often. Berry, the new commander, put it this way: “When we are called, we go. And when we go, we lead.