GLOVERSVILLE – In the gymnasium of Gloversville High School on Sunday, Lt. Col. Joseph Biehler, commander of the 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry, looked over his company, made up of soldiers across upstate New York.
These soldiers served under him in Afghanistan.
“You guys are the best-trained infantrymen,” Biehler told them. “You guys are my main effort company.
“We came back with every single one of our soldiers,” he said.
Accomplishing such a task reflected on the soldiers’ professionalism and character, he added.
Biehler made his comments during the battalion’s Freedom Salute Ceremony. At the event, the soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s Company C, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry were honored for their service in Afghanistan and received medals. In addition, Capt. Dermot Gavin took command of the company in a change-of-command ceremony.
The 108th has units in Gloversville, Ithaca, Utica, Glenville, Leeds, Ogdensburg and Morrisonville.
Among the members’ duties during deployment was to train and help members of the Afghan National Security Forces secure Highway One from Herat City to Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan.
“When we got there, they were only manning checkpoints along the highway,” Capt. Shawn Tabankin said. “By the time we left, they were conducting intelligence-based raids against the Taliban, completely independent of American help.”
The majority of Task Force Iron and the men and women who had served in it came back to the United States in late September.
In 100 days of combat operations in 2012, the 500-soldier Task Force Iron, which included members of the 108th Infantry Regiment, cleared improvised explosive devices on the highway, conducted 572 combat missions and worked with Italian forces to clear out portions of the Guilistan Valley in the Farah Province, where several bases were cut off from anything but air travel due to insurgent forces, a news release said.
Tabankin said the mission was important in keeping a foothold in the region.
“Obviously, the Taliban didn’t want that,” he said, jokingly.
Tabankin said the only injuries came from a few falls and Humvee accidents in the terrain of Afghanistan.
Tabankin said he would miss the company.
“I’ve been in command for two years,” he said. “I’m proud. It’s an organization with a great reputation.”
Tabankin will move to New York National Guard Headquarters to serve as a force integration and readiness officer for the state.
He said he is confident in Gavin’s ability to lead the company.
“I left them in good hands,” Tabankin said.
Staff Sgt. Jason Whitman of Mayfield, who has served for 11 years and has had two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, said that during IED elimination duties, he would drive in a Humvee toward the rear of the convoy and get out to check for IEDs before getting back in.
“I think we were fairly lucky, since we didn’t get into any major fire fights,” Whitman said.
“It was different. It was a different role this time around,” said Whitman, who previously served as a squad leader before switching to an active platoon sergeant.
“To go off and deploy in a combat zone takes a special talent, skill and toughness,” Biehler said. “For the rest of your lives, you are combat veterans.”
Staff Sgt. John Ferrara, who worked as a supply officer in the company, described the service he did overseas as “eventful. It was a short period of time, packed full of stuff.”
Whitman said he is still thinking about whether he would stay in the Guard.
“I’ve got one year to decide and it’s looking pretty positive,” Whitman said.
Beth Whitman, Jason’s mother, said she is proud of her son’s service.
“I told him it was his decision; he was his own man. He did it as soon as he turned 18,” she said.
With Whitman home for the last few months, Beth Whitman said she was relieved to see him home.
“It’s just chills still,” she said.
“Now I got to get back to work,” Jason Whitman said jokingly.
He has to go back to work at the Walmart Distribution Center after his active duty ends.