Sgt. Richard Wrigley
2HBCT Public Affairs
FORT STEWART, Ga. – Soldiers, families and friends of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment “Desert Rogues," 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, gathered to witness the battalion's change of command ceremony held here at Cottrell Field, Feb., 22.
The ceremony, a time-honored tradition in the U.S. Army, symbolized the transfer of authority from the outgoing commander, Lt. Col. Charles Armstrong, to the incoming commander, Lt. Col. Sean Kuester.
The ceremony also marked the change of responsibility between the Rogues’ outgoing senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Littlejohn, and the incoming senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Franklin.
Prior to the ceremony and throughout the ceremony, the message the Desert Rogues outgoing commander seemed intent on imparting was that of the intangible, yet ever-present spirit of the battalion.
“Everybody I’ve ever talked to who has ever been a Rogue or associated with the Rogues, going all the way back to a Korean War Vet, they all express the same sentiment, this battalion is a special battalion,” Armstrong said.
“It’s not necessarily better, but what makes the battalion, what has been passed down from 1941 until now - it’s hard to put your finger on it, it’s hard to put into words, but I call it the battalion’s soul, and it is something special,” Armstrong added.
Indeed, the incoming commander, Kuester, a native of Charlotte, N.C., and a Desert Rogue previously in his military career, fully agrees with this sentiment as well.
“I could not concur more with what Armstrong said about this being a special unit; Its origins are special, its contributions to the Armor force are special, and most recently, their actions in Afghanistan were extremely and uniquely special,” said Kuester.
While the Rogues spirit and strength, even the soul, did shine in Afghanistan, this is not where the story of the current Rogue team started.
The Desert Rogues had been through a lot during the time that the former command team was in place, and indeed by Armstrong’s description, it was a time of fierce performance and accomplishment.
When Armstrong came into command of the Rogues, they were not supposed to be deploying anytime soon.
Due to this fact, they immediately picked up a training oriented mission set, helping train 4,000 of the brigade’s Soldiers, and also training themselves on new tank equipment, conducting 10 km. road marches, and going through gunnery tables 1-12 during an extended field training exercise. It was a busy time for the Rogues, explained Armstrong.
The Rogues came out of the field ready to start equipment servicing for a garrison and training environment, continued Armstrong.
Yet just as the soldiers seemed to be getting comfortable, the unexpected happened.
“A week before Thanksgiving [of 2011] we got prepare to deploy to Afghanistan orders,” Armstrong said.
This is when the operational tempo stepped up even more, and all the Desert Rogues’ efforts became focused on training up in the short time period for the deployment, culminating on a last minute rotation through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
When they got back from NTC they received more bad news: they needed to leave sooner than what they were already preparing for.
“Now we had eight working days from when we got back from NTC until we had to deploy,” said Armstrong.
The hits kept on coming for the Desert Rogues, who’s metal was proving strong before they ever even got to Afghanistan as they were forced to deploy with fewer soldiers than they would normally want, force capped at a smaller number reflective of a Stryker brigade’s numbers, Armstrong explained.
Once in theater the battalion was split into two groups, with Companies B and C assigned to 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Tomahawk, for the duration of the deployment and operating in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan, where they would come to take the largest amount of enemy contact of the Battalion, Armstrong said.
At the same time, the rest of the battalion was given the mission to reduce enemy rocket fire on Kandahar Air Field, a strategic hub for all of the International Security Assistance Forces in Regional Command South, Armstrong said.
“We had to pull from everyone over there to accomplish the mission,” Armstrong elaborated.
Through coordination with the Air Force, Romanian military, intelligence gathering units, and fixed and rotary wing aviation personnel, they were able to address the problem.
“Between that and constant patrolling with our Afghan partners from every pillar of their military we ended up decreasing rocket attacks to a number and rate which was the lowest they had there since the beginning,” said Armstrong.
Brig. Gen. John Hort, deputy commander home detachment, 3rd ID, and a keynote speaker at the ceremony elaborated on the accomplishments of the battalion in Afghanistan.
“Their herculean efforts resulted in the capture of nearly 50 named targets, a 70 percent decrease in rocket attacks on Kandahar Air Field, and the killing of countless enemy fighters located throughout their battle space,” Hort said.
Enough can’t be said for the Companies B and C, serving within TF Tomahawk as well.
“Day in and day out [companies C and B] went out, always knowing they would come into contact, always certain they would take enemy fire - they never broke, they never stopped, they were hit hard and there were casualties, but it could have been a lot worse if not for the superb quality of those soldiers and leaders in those two companies,” said Armstrong.
Hort shed even more light on the indomitable spirit, the strong soul that separates the 1-64th AR from other Army units.
“Out of the 60 plus battalions that were located through out Afghanistan, 1-64 Armor ranked in the top two in the number of enemy contacts they had; that shows you the amount of combat this battalion faced,” Hort said.
Regardless of the time Armstrong has spent with the Rogues, a little more than two years in total, he is still stymied by the soldiers and what they are capable of.
“I continue to be awed by the strength of these soldiers … they have taken every mission, regardless of what little time they had, regardless of what was being asked, saluted, and went on and achieved excellence,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong won’t be going far when he leaves, as he’ll be going “just down the street” to eventually serve as the new G-3 for the 3rd ID.
Yet as Armstrong leaves, the soul of the Rouges remains, strong and proud, and ready for new leadership, just as Kuester is ready to lead the battalion to new heights.
“My goal is to be as good a leader to the soldiers who are here now as the leaders were to me when I was a brand new second lieutenant in this unit,” said Kuester.
“I’m proud to be here, I’m proud to be back on the team, and I’m ready to be the newest rifleman on this team,” continued Kuester.
However, though appearing confident and at ease, even Kuester admits the job will not be easy.
“I have a big challenge to live up to from all the Desert Rogues in the past and in particular Lt. Col. Armstrong - those are very big boots to fill.”