SD Army National Guard legacy unit receives Valorous Unit Award for service in Iraq

A South Dakota Army National Guard legacy unit has received the U.S. Army’s Valorous Unit Award nearly 17 years after the company’s service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The former Parkston and Platte-based Company C, 153rd Engineer Battalion, and its assigned soldiers were awarded the VUA for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States during the period of April 10, 2004–April 22, 2004.

The company is one of 15 units designated for the award during this timeframe that served under the 1st Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, which encountered heavy fighting with enemy forces near Najaf, Iraq.

Company C – a combat engineer unit with 113 soldiers – supported force protection, security and base defense operations for 1st ID forces operating in the region. The VUA is the second highest U.S. Army unit decoration which may be bestowed upon a unit after the Presidential Unit Citation.

In the year following the deployment, there was no indication from the U.S. Army the company would receive the award. Company C was eventually divested and re-designated as a forward support company as a result of a U.S. Army force structure transformation in 2008.

When the unit was actually submitted and approved for the VUA is unknown. However in January 2020, the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command distributed a nationwide listing of unit awards dating back to 2003 to ensure all units knew what awards they were approved for. The National Guard Bureau had each state review the listing and validate their assigned units. This is when the SDARNG discovered that Company C had earned the VUA.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see Company C had received the VUA,” said Lt. Col. Jason Thomson, commander of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, who also served as a platoon leader with Company C. “The SDNG had to complete a request to receive the VUA guidon streamer as well as submit a roster of all soldiers who served with the unit during that timeframe. Their official records were then updated with a copy of the order awarding them the VUA.”

A company reunion was held in Parkston on Feb. 6 to present the award to several dozen soldiers who attended the event. The unit’s 2004 company commander, Capt. Dan Bosma was on-hand to present the awards. Thomson, who serves as the commander of the 153rd Engineer Battalion, presided over the event.

“Most of the soldiers have since completed their military commitments or retired after all of these years, and this simply gives us an opportunity to come together to receive the award and reflect on our service together during an important time in each of our lives,” said Thomson.

Company C, along with the entire 153rd Engineer Battalion, was mobilized for duty in Iraq in December 2003 and returned home in March 2005. During the time period of the award, Company C was attached to the 1st Infantry Division and located in an extremely austere environment to establish a forward operating base located northwest of the city of Najaf.

Najaf was one location of the Iraq War spring fighting of 2004, which was a series of operational offensives and various major engagements between militia groups and U.S. and coalition forces.

Company C’s mission was to develop and enhance force protection and base defenses at FOB Duke, as well as to construct and operate a detention holding area to support detainee operations based on expected heavy fighting with enemy forces.

The unit was also responsible for constructing a controlled access point to enter the base, supporting internal security missions, executing quick reaction force missions, and providing sustainment support to 1st ID units operating within Najaf.

“There is a sense of pride that the soldiers of Company C have always had based on their service during that particular timeframe,” said Thomson. “At the time, we had very limited information on the entirety of the operation as a whole, but we were very much of aware of the significance of what was taking place.

“Receiving the unit award and being recognized as being part of the events as they unfolded is very humbling to the unit to say the least,” added Thomson.

Thomson says the Valorous Unit Award comes with a separate streamer that will be rolled up within the heraldry of the 153rd Engineer Battalion and be maintained on the battalion colors.

Valorous Unit Award: The VUA may be awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and cobelligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party for actions occurring on or after 3 August 1963.