By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — Soldiers of the "Black Jack" brigade were dealt a new hand Tuesday, welcoming a new commander and adding a campaign streamer to the unit's colors.

The 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team hosted a command change ceremony on Cooper Field to say goodbye to Col. John A. Peeler and Command Sgt. Maj. Emmett M. Maunakea and to greet Col. Robert F. Whittle Jr.

"I didn't get here today without having a lot of help and support," said Peeler. He took extra care to thank his wife, Trish Peeler, for her support and to wish her a happy birthday.

"During my career, I've had the honor of serving with a cohort of the Army's finest (noncommissioned officers). That trend absolutely continued in Black Jack. None were finer than Emmett Maunakea, one of the finest soldiers and leaders I've ever seen," he said.

The two worked together for the duration of Peeler's two-year command, including a six-month deployment to Iraq during the second half of 2011. The brigade helped advise, train, assist and equip Iraqi forces while transitioning nine installations to the Iraqi government.

For those successes, the brigade earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation, given to a unit for outstanding service for at least six continuous months during a period of military operations related to combat efforts.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, division commander, said Black Jack's success was because the brigade implemented exemplary training before deploying and then took the fight to the enemy.

"It all represents the tremendous work of the officers, (noncommissioned officers) and soldiers of this unit," he said. "Col. Peeler is a true American leader and cavalryman."

Peeler and his family will be moving to work at U.S. Central Command at McDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Whittle came to Fort Hood from the Pentagon, where he served as a planner in the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate, Joint Staff.

"Our mission is to deploy, fight and win," he said. "Our requirement — our obligation — is to train lethal, flexible, agile and capable soldiers, and we will deliver."

Whittle and his wife, Kathleen, a native Texan, said they had hoped to get stationed at Fort Hood.

"There's an incredible history and heritage that comes with the Black Jack brigade, and it's exciting to be a part of it," he said.

Looking ahead, Whittle said he plans to get to know his team and battalions as the soldiers go into training this fall.

"He'll bring the Black Jack Brigade Combat Team to new heights," said Ierardi. "It's a tough new mission, because the toughest people get the toughest job."

Contact Rose L. Thayer at or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

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