By Spc. Alun Thomas
lst Cavalry public affairs
TAJI, Iraq – For many soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, it was a day of firsts.
Not only was it their first Independence Day in a combat zone and their first spent away from their families, but most importantly, on the 233rd anniversary of the United States, their first combat patch.
Patch ceremonies for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade took place on a dust-swept morning Saturday at the headquarters of the various battalions within the brigade on Camp Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad, as first-time deployers with the brigade had the storied 1st Cavalry Division patch placed on their right shoulder as a permanent reminder of their service.
During the patch ceremony for the 615th Aviation Support Brigade, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, Col. Douglas Gabram, of Cleveland, Ohio, commander of the brigade, said the ceremony could have taken place a month earlier, but he decided to wait.
"We could have thrown the patch on the right shoulder 30 days ago, but we waited until today because we're old-fashioned in the air cav," Gabram said. "It's a special day, the Fourth of July, and this combat patch linked to you, nobody can take it away."
Gabram said the significance of the patch might not be apparent now to younger soldiers, but it will take on extra meaning in the coming years.
"Many of you are putting the patch on for the first time and when you're retired, you will remember this day and be proud of this patch on your right shoulder," Gabram said. "You may not see it now, but you will."
Gabram thanked the 615th Aviation Support Battalion for their sacrifices and to use events like the patch ceremony to stay positive.
Lt. Col. Harold Keck, of Edmond, Okla., commander of the 615th Aviation Support Battalion, also explained the importance of the patch ceremony, describing it as historic for "Cold Steel."
"This patch has a proud and lengthy history with an extremely courageous and ferocious lineage," Keck said. "You now join the many soldiers who went before you."
Keck said the first time he saw the 1st Cavalry Division patch was as a 9-year-old when he saw the film "Apocalypse Now" with his father, something that stayed with him in later years.
"When I joined the Army as a young private, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be standing before a formation of proud professionals wearing this patch," Keck said.
The proudest day of his military career was the day he had the 1st Cavalry patch placed on his right sleeve and hoped in later years soldiers of the 615th would feel the same way, he said.
"The boss (Col. Gabram) said it, but I want to reiterate it; in 30 years time, maybe 50 or 60, I want you to remember this day and time," Keck said. "There's nothing better than having a 1st Cav sandwich," in reference to wearing the 1st Cav. patch on both shoulders.
Receiving his first combat patch was Spc. Travis Lee, from Memphis, Tenn., paralegal, 1st ACB, who said he had waited a long time to wear the 1st Cav. Div. patch.
"On our last deployment I didn't get a chance to deploy with the Air Cav (due to) injury, so it feels great," Lee said following the ceremony.
Having the patch ceremony on Independence Day added extra meaning to the occasion, Lee said, a suitable reminder of the sacrifices of Soldiers past and present.
"We have to make sure people understand that we don't take freedom for granted," Lee said. "What we are doing over here is very important and the primary mission is to get back home safe."
Having the First Team patch, in particular, means more to Lee than just the material it is made of.
"For me this patch means the honor and tradition of serving in the 1st Cavalry Division," Lee said.
"I knew when I was coming to the division I was always going to be a part of something special," he said proudly.