During a solemn ceremony in the sweltering Kansas National Guard armory Saturday afternoon, the guidon, the banner representing the Great Bend-based Battery E (Target Acquisition), 161st Field Artillery, unit was “cased.”
The bright scarlet and gold flag was lowered, covered in an olive-drab sheath, and raised again, only to be escorted out of the building for the last time to the salutes of the service personnel present. The unit that has seen action in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, was no more.
The 161st’s 27-year storied history came to an end as it was deactivated.
“Today is a sad day,” said Brigadier General Robert Windham, KNG commander of land components. “But, in some respects, it is a happy day.”
Battery E will be reorganized into a platoon-size unit and transferred to the command of the newly formed 130th Field Artillery Brigade based in Manhattan. The change is part of the Army’s streamlining such assets in light of newer, more advanced technology.
“They become part of our memories and our history,” Windham said. “But what memories and what a history.”
The impact of the battery can be seen across the state, across the nation and around the globe, the general said.
“It’s a happy day because we move to the next chapter,” he said. “While the unit doesn’t exist anymore, its mission, its legacy continues on, more relevant than ever.”
Windham recalled the history of target acquisition, from spotting flashes and listening for shots in the distance to today’s radar. Units like this, he said, help the king of battle remain the king.
“Time and technology marches forward and with it comes more change,” he said. “That’s what we see today, Today, we turn a page in a book called the ‘History of the Army.’” Windham said.
“You’ve done great things and you should be proud,” he told the globe-hopping soldiers of the 161st. “You’ve been here, there and everywhere, really. You were the best and you proved it over and over again.”
The general also had praise for the communities that supported the unit. “You have been there for us and when you need us, we’ll be there for you, always,” he said.
“Truly, this is the heart of America,” he said. “You gave us your sons, your daughters, your husbands and your wives. You gave us your key people.”
With that, he said the KNG’s presence is Great Bend would continue. The Guard’s 731st Transportation Company is also stationed in Great Bend and will remain based at the armory located across from the Great Bend Expo Complex west of town.
Of the 44 soldiers attached to Battery E, 24 will transfer to the 130th and the rest to other units, including the 731st.
Both units include members from this area as well as elsewhere in Kansas. Those going to a new unit will just have to travel to a different location for their training.
It was also a bittersweet day for Chief Warrant Officer 2 Carol Sprawka, who up until Saturday had been the 161st commander and will assume command of the new platoon.
“If there is one word that could describe this (target acquisition battery) it would be family,” Sprawka said. This includes the soldiers, past and present, as well as their family members and the communities from which they came.
She then acknowledged Great Bend City Council President Joel Jackson and Larned Mayor William Nusser, presenting each of them with a plaque.
“There have been many changes,” Sprawka said. As they transition to this smaller unit, she said they will continue this family concept.
This will be a challenge, she said. “But, like all animals, we shall adapt and overcome.
According to information from the KNG, Battery E was first activated April 1, 1988, at Larned and Great Bend. From Feb. 21 to Nov. 1, 1995, the battery was mobilized in support of Operation Joint Endeavor, a NATO peacekeeping mission in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Battery E was mobilized again on May 18, 2000, in support of Operation Joint Guardian, a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and was demobilized on Dec. 21, 2000. The unit was mobilized for the third time in less than 10 years Sept. 20, 2004, this time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
One group of 13 Soldiers was attached to a Texas field artillery unit, while a second group of six Soldiers joined with another unit. They returned to Kansas Dec. 3, 2005.
In 2007, Soldiers of Battery E deployed to Iraq again in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The battery next deployed to the Horn of Africa in 2010 with the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery to conduct offensive, defensive, and/or stability operations to strengthen partner nation and regional security. They returned home in February 2011.