Ceremony 'Weighs Heavily' As Unit Colors Passed On
By Pfc. Chris Jones, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BABYLON, Iraq, Nov. 3, 2003 In the arid, ancient Iraqi city of Babylon, soldiers of the 716th Military Police Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) watched Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, 101st commander, pass their unit's colors to a new commander here Nov. 2.
Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), passes the 716th Military Police Battalion guide-on to Lt. Col. Ashton L. Hayes, signifying the battalion's change of command to Hayes Nov. 2 after the death of former commander Lt. Col. Kim S. Orlando Oct. 16 in Karbala. Photo by Pfc. Chris Jones, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But the ceremony had an added edge of sadness: A skirmish in Karbala had left the battalion's former leader, Lt. Col. Kim Orlando, and two other soldiers dead Oct. 16. Lt. Col. Ashton Hayes took command of the battalion in the assumption-of-command ceremony.
"As many of you know, there is a formula for change-of-command ceremonies," said Petraeus to the battalion's soldiers. "Today's ceremony, however, is not a normal change of command. If it were, we would be standing on the freshly cut grass of the division parade field. Our families would be in the bleachers and, of course, the outgoing commander would be sitting next to the incoming commander.
"We all know what's missing today our families, Lt. Col. Orlando, and several of your other comrades. And those absences, especially that of (Lt.) Col. Orlando, who would have played such a key role in this ceremony, weigh heavily on us so though all changes of command are emotional occasions, this one is unquestionably more so."
Orlando led the "Peacekeepers", the most decorated military police battalion in the U.S. Army, throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom, in support of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, directing the establishment of seven Iraqi police academies where more than 6,000 Iraqi policemen were trained, Petraeus said.
"In short, this battalion is awesome," he continued, turning to the incoming commander. "Lt. Col. Hayes, I know that you recognize what a great unit this is, a unit whose MPs have been battle-tested and shown themselves to be tough, competent and courageous. They have withstood the loss of their commander and fellow soldiers and friends, and they've continued the mission, never faltering and never wavering."
Much of Hayes' experience comes from his time at Fort Bragg, N.C., as deputy provost marshal, 82nd Airborne Division, operations officer and later executive officer for the 503rd MP Battalion, and executive officer for the 16th MP Brigade, were among his positions while at Fort Bragg.
Following Orlando's death, Hayes was quick to respond to the void the 101st was left with, Petraeus said. "Upon notification that we needed him here in Iraq, he immediately packed up, kissed his family goodbye and moved out. Clearly, this is a leader who can shift gears, accept a new mission, move out and make it happen."
Hayes had few words for his new battalion, heeding the tragedy of Orlando's death and vowing to carry on the triumphs of the unit.
"Two weeks ago, the battalion took a hit," said Hayes. "But it did not fall and it did not stumble you have never faltered in your job, and that's about all a leader can ask of his soldiers."
While the ceremony marked the induction of a new battalion commander, it also acted as a final tribute to Orlando.
"To be sure, we have said farewell to and honored Col. Orlando here, and back home he was honored as well where police cars and fire engines lined the road and manned every overpass and exit on the route taken by the four-mile long funeral procession (Oct. 24) from Fort Campbell to Nashville (Orlando's hometown)," Petraeus said. "Nonetheless, this ceremony is one more painful reminder that the 716th lost its commander and two of its great soldiers a few weeks ago."
(Pfc. Chris Jones is assigned to the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)