The 116th Convoy Security Company:

Newest Unit in the Utah Guard Heads Out

 

By Maj. Hank McIntire

Published October 14, 2007

 

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Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, left, gives some final encouragement to 116th commander Maj. Reece Roberts before Roberts boards the plane.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, left, gives some final encouragement to 116th commander Maj. Reece Roberts before Roberts boards the plane.

SALT LAKE CITY — Family, friends and Utah National Guard leaders gathered May 21 at the Utah Air National Guard Base here to say farewell to a unit that did not exist just a few months ago.

The 116th Convoy Security Company—composed entirely of volunteers and created as a result of a Department of the Army requirement to provide a contingent for security duties in Iraq—has spent the last few months training, organizing, equipping and recruiting for this unique and dangerous mission.

Specialist Matthew Taylor, 115th Engineer Group, one of dozens of full-time Utah National Guard members who helped the 116th prepare for this assignment, was on hand to send off his brother, 1st Lt. Brent Taylor.

“[They started with] 170 strangers,” said Matthew, who has four brothers in the National Guard. “We helped them get ready, but more than their training or anything else they’ve done, I think the way they have banded together will be a huge part of their mission and being successful in Iraq.” 

Chaplain (Maj.) Clay Anstead, left, offers a prayer for the Soldiers of the 116th as they begin their 12-month deployment to Iraq.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Chaplain (Maj.) Clay Anstead, left, offers a prayer for the Soldiers

of the 116th as they begin their 12-month deployment to Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, is impressed with how many combat-experienced Soldiers came forward to volunteer to be a part of this new unit.

“I was surprised; a third of these folks are deploying for the second time,” he said. “This is a great bunch of Soldiers here. These security forces missions are delicate and dangerous, and they are going to have to be on top of their game—and they will be.”

Just like many in the 116th who are repeat customers for deployment, their families are also veterans of the emotional roller-coaster of this day.

“I’ve been through this five times; three times with my son and twice with my daughter,” said Jacqueline Weimer, mother of Sgt. Tony Weimer, who also brought Queen, their miniature pinscher, to see off their Soldier. “It doesn’t get any easier.”

Sgt.Tony Weimer, of West Valley, shares a goodbye growl with Queen, his miniature pinscher, before leaving for Iraq.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Sgt.Tony Weimer, of West Valley, shares a goodbye growl

with Queen, his miniature pinscher, before leaving for Iraq.

Standing with his mom’s arm around him and having a final playful tussle with his dog, Sergeant Weimer, a 22-year veteran of three combat tours to Kuwait and Afghanistan—two with the Guard and one with the Marine Corps—knows this will be his last deployment and has a single goal for the success of the Soldiers he will lead.

“My first responsibility is to my team,” said Weimer, who will be a truck commander. “It doesn’t matter what it is, my team comes first. We have a good group of guys and they are highly motivated.”

Others are going on their first deployment, such as Spc. Leallen Blackhair, of Fort Duchesne, and a member of the Ute Tribe.

“It’s an emotional day, and it’s hard to leave somebody behind,” he said. “[But] you have to give something up to get something back in return. I’m not doing this for myself but for the Tribe. I’m the only member from the reservation who is going.”

Cpl. Michael Dixon, of Dugway, makes one last phone call at the top of the aircraft stairs as he boards the flight to Camp Shelby, Miss.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Cpl. Michael Dixon, of Dugway, makes one last phone call at the top

of the aircraft stairs as the boards the flight to Camp Shelby, Miss.

“The veterans of World War II and Vietnam, I’m carrying on something that they started,” added Blackhair.

Blackhair’s large extended family included his wife, who is just weeks from delivering a baby, his nine siblings, and his mother Felita, who is concerned about the danger of the mission but supportive of her son.

“The way I look at it is, ‘He’s a man. He’s made his choice, and I have to stand behind him,’” she said. “Whatever choice he makes I have to be right there. I’m really proud of him. He’s done it on his own.”

And 1st Lt. Brent Taylor, hugging his wife and two children for the last time before leaving them for a year, is honored to follow in the footsteps of his brother Matthew.

Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Jensen, right, shares his thoughts with KCPW AM 1010 reporter Julie Rose.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Jensen, right, of Riverton,

shares his  thoughts with KCPW AM 1010 reporter Julie Rose.

“I volunteered to do this, but it’s sad to leave my family—especially my kids who are too young to understand why I’m leaving,” he said. “It’s great to serve as Matt did. I’m excited to get our training done and get over there.”

Unit commander Maj. Reece Roberts was also feeling the pangs of parting along with his Soldiers.

“This a hard day. It’s tough on families,” he said. “They’re the ones who have to make the toughest sacrifice, but we as Soldiers are ready. I’m ready, and we’re motivated to go. I love being part of this unit and honored to be their commander.”

As the Soldiers boarded the ATA Airlines charter flight, Tarbet and Gov. Jon Huntsman were on hand to shake hands and offer encouragement. After the last Soldier climbed the stairs to the aircraft, both Tarbet and Huntsman followed to give the group a quick pep talk.

Two brothers cheer on their Soldier as the 116th prepares to depart for Camp Shelby, Miss., en route to their assigned mission in Iraq.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Two brothers cheer on their Soldier as the 116th prepares to depart

for Camp Shelby, Miss., en route to their assigned mission in Iraq.

You know how proud we are of you,” said Tarbet over the plane’s intercom to the Soldiers settling into their seats. “You guys are the ‘A’ team. You know it and I know it.”

Thank you for what you are doing,” added Huntsman. “All I can say is that you are performing a service that we are mighty, mighty proud of. The Guard here in Utah carries a level of respectability that I have never seen before. Just know that you have 2.7 million people here who love their men and women in uniform.”

“You won’t do much else in life that will be as important as what you are doing right now,” Huntsman continued. “Do it well. Give it your all.”

Watching events unfold from the front of the plane was Michelle Mayes, a flight attendant who has been with ATA for 15 years.

“We’re the ones who take them [overseas],” she said. “It’s important to me give them the best experience going over and then be the first people who take them home. That’s the best part of it all.”

“You can tell they are sad, but once they cross the threshold, then they get into the mindset of ‘We’re ready to go,’ added Mayes. “They’re our boys and our girls. We’re glad to do it.”

Soldiers of the 116th Convoy Security Company line up in formation before they board the aircraft at the Utah Air National Guard Base May 21.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Soldiers of the 116th Convoy Security Company sound off in formation

before they board the aircraft at the Utah Air National Guard Base May 21.