The10th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom is being remembered in West Virginia.
It was the evening of March 19, 2003 that then-President George W. Bush announced to the country that we were at war with Saddam Hussein and his regime.
“My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger,” said President Bush in an address from the Oval Office.
State Adjutant General James Hoyer was a colonel with the West Virginia National Guard at the time and remembers vividly the first thoughts running through his mind when he heard the president’s words.
“What does this mean to us as far as deploying men and women into harm’s way?” Hoyer said he asked himself that night.
The next thought, according to Hoyer, “What are we going to need to do to support the effort that the nation has embarked upon?”
Hoyer says the Guard was already ramping up for action after 9/11 and had sent troops to the Middle East.
“Initially for us, we sent special operations units into Afghanistan almost immediately after the onset of the actions,” Hoyer said when he spoke with MetroNews Tuesday.
He said it actually took a few weeks for the West Virginia National Guard to get its official orders and for the first deployments to begin that summer.
“It was relatively seamless for us to go into the mode to do what we needed to do in Iraq,” explained Hoyer. “We were already heightening the level of readiness of the National Guard after September 11, 2001.”
Hoyer says the Guard has developed tremendously in the past 12 years.
“If you think in perspective of where the Guard was prior to September 11 and where the Guard has come since September 11, it’s a tremendous testament to the militia construct that our founding fathers put together and how the militia could ramp up and be prepared to ramp up even more in the event the nation calls on it,” he said.
Units with the West Virginia National Guard were called upon again and again to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan during the war in Iraq. Some members served two or three tours of duty to protect their home state, the country and the world.
The National Guard says elements from the Special Operations Detachment Europe (SODE) attached to the 10th Special Forces Group was the first West Virginia National Guard Unit in Iraq on/around Nov. 2002.
The Guard says the first conventional unit was the 1092nd Engineering Battalion on/around Feb. 2003.