1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, Washington Army National Guard
Highlanders enjoy a special relationship with the 1st Battalion, 161st
Infantry Regiment of the Washington Army National Guard. This battalion is
organized into various subunits, as shown below. This Regiment is the core
fighting unit of the 81st Armored Brigade, which in March 2004 was sent to
the Iraq theatre of operations to spell other combat units there who have
completed a year of service. The 161st is joined by the 303 Armor, 898
Engineer and 181 Support Battalions, as well as units from outside of
Washington such as the 185th Armor Battalion from San Bernardino, California
and an air defence unit from Monticello, Minnesota. The deployment of the
brigade to Iraq represents the largest such employment of National Guard
troops in Iraq. The nationwide mobilization (or "federalization", as the US
refers to it) of over 320,000 National Guard soldiers since 11 September
2001 is the largest such operation since the end of the Second World War.
Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry
|Company A, 1st
Battalion, 161st Infantry
|Company B, 1st
Battalion, 161st Infantry
|Company C, 1st
Battalion, 161st Infantry
|DET 1, Company C,
1st Battalion, 161st Infantry
|DET 2, Company C,
1st Battalion, 161st Infantry
In peacetime, the
Regiment maintains subunits in various locations in Washington State and
operates much like the Canadian Reserve Army.
A friendship was
struck beween the Highlanders and the 161st in the 1950s, when the
Regimental Pipes and Drums played in the Lilac Festival Parade in Spokane.
The friendship grew into an annual Labour Day exchange; one year the
Highlanders would send their officers and senior NCOs to Washington to spend
a weekend attending social events, the next year's Labour Day weekend would
see the Highlanders host a US delegation.
train with each other have been discussed for many years, and finally became
a reality beginning in 2002, when 54 Calgary Highlanders under Commanding
Officer Lieutenant Colonel Lee Villiger took part in a training weekend in
Yakima, Washington with the 161st. The Calgary Highlanders - officially
dismounted light infantry - had the chance to explore the Bradley Infantry
Fighting Vehicles which the fully mechanized US unit is equipped with, as
well as comparing notes on section and platoon battle drills. The
Highlanders also participated in the US Army Expert Infantry Badge 12 mile
speed march ( a distance of 19.3 kilometres). The march was timed, and the
fifteen top times were claimed by the Calgary Highlanders, who received
specially minted coins from Lieutenant Colonel Levendoski, Commanding
Officer of the 1st of the 161st. The US CO also expressed wonder at the
fastest time, by Corporal Mike Kotuk, of just two hours and 6 minutes. The
Highlanders completed the march carrying an average of 22 kilograms of
equipment. Master Corporal Kurtis Sanheim and Captain Kyle Clapperton
finished second and third.
LCol Villiger, Commanding Officer of The Calgary
Highlanders, with Lieutenant Colonel Levendoski, Commanding Officer of
the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry (far left), talking with a Bradley
gunner of Company A.
1Lt Mark Favero, Commanding Officer of Company A, 1st
Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, during the combined training in
2002, photographed with Sergeant Jason Calvert ("A" Company Recce Det)
and Sergeant Gerald Downey (with back to camera, of 1 Platoon, "A"
Photo Credits - Captain Russ Meades, Calgary
Highlanders, originally published in The Maple Leaf
Washington Infantry units were born of necessity, as Indian warriors
waged war with the American settlers in that region in 1855. Acting
Governor Charles H. Mason called for a Regiment of Infantry on 11
October of that year. Govern Major Isaac Stevens, ironically in
Montana on a treaty-making trip, returned to his state to hear of the
uprising. He mustered two companies at Spokane Falls, and the
so-called Walla Walla Battalion marched 700 miles through hostile
territory without making contact. They were then disbanded.
battalions were constituted in March 1886 and April 1887 in the
Washington Territory, comprising the existing independent companies
mustered between 1880 and 1884. The military in Washington was
redesignated the Washington (Territory) National Guard in 1888.
Redesignations and reorganizations resulted in the 1st Regiment,
Washington Volunteer Infantry being mustered into Federal service 6-13
May 1898 at Tacoma and then mustered out 1 November 1898 at San
Francisco, California. An Independent Battalion, Washington Volunteer
Infantry, served briefly in Federal service from July to October 1898
in Vancouver, Washington.
Washington National Guard was organized in 1898, and the previous
infantry units were reorganized as the 1st Infantry Regiment. Other
reorganizations followed, with some companies converting to Coastal
Two regiments of
Washington infantry were briefly mustered for the dispute with Mexico
in 1916, serving between June and November of that year. The 1st
Washington Infantry was ordered to active duty in March 1917 to guard
State installations, and then drafted into Federal service for World
War I. The 1st and 2nd Washington Infantry became the 161st Infantry
Regiment, part of the 81st Infantry Brigade of the 41st Division. The
Division arrived in France in December 1917 - eventually some 33
divisions would participate in the US war effort in France. The 161st
Regiment was given a replacement and training assignment. It
performed those duties, as well as assistance in construction, until
rejoining the 41st Division in August 1918, and eventual transit home
in January and February of 1919.
Official Demobilization came in 1-8 March 1919 at Camp Dix, New Jersey
and Camp Dodge, Iowa, and the unit lay dormant for two years, until
re-organized on 1 January 1921 in the Washington National Guard as
161st Infantry; assigned once more to the 41st Division. by 28 April
1925, the Regiment had 1,243 officers and men on strength. The
headquarters of the Regiment moved from Seattle to Spokane in 1925,
where it was to remain. Along with the 163rd Infantry Regiment from
Montana, the Regiment formed the 81st Brigade. On the last day of
annual camp in 1935, the Regiment was called out in its entirety to
quell a civilian riot, and remained on duty for 44 days while the 81st
Brigade's commander mediated with the striking lumber workers in
Tacoma and Aberdeen, and the crisis ended with no shots fired and no
In 1940 the word rifle was added to the 161st's title making it
the 161st Rifle Regiment. In the wake of the armistice between France,
Italy and Germany signed on 25 June, annual camp involved 40,000 men
of the Guard and regular Army in an unusual three week session. When
the units left for home station, tentage and equipment normally
returned was left at camp instead. On 31 August, the 161st was
ordered to one year's active duty. The United States had begun
drafting soldiers also, and the one year's active duty was extended.
The Regiment left the 41st Division and was ordered to the
Phillipines. On 7 December 1941, whilethe Regiment was in transit to
San Francisco on their way to the Far East, the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor and war was declared soon after.
The move to
the Philippines was cancelled (luckily enough, as the entire US and
Filipino garrison there would be forced to surrender in 1942.) The
161st deployed to the South Pacific, sailing for Hawaii in December,
and the Regiment learned it would be broken up for reinforcements as
had been the case in the First World War. These plans were changed,
and the Regiment joined the 25th Division in August 1942 as the 161st
Regimental Combat Team, taking under command an artillery battalion
and engineer company. In late 1942, the unit departed for
Guadalcanal, where US Army troops had recently reinforced the Marines
there. The fighting there by the 161st was fast and decisive, and the
Division - to date lacking a distinctive shoulder patch - was given a
Taro Leaf (familiar to the Hawaiian Islands) with a bolt of lightning
running through it, all in the red and gold of the late Hawaiian
monarchy. The Division became known as the Lightning, and later the
Tropic Lightning, a nickname which was made official in 1953.
defensive positions on Guadalcanal (part of the Solomon chain),
the 161st was chosen to spearhead an attack - the first against
Japanese troops in months. The Regiment performed extremely
well, covering twenty miles of thick jungle in nineteen days of
combat. The Regiment next moved to New Georgia, and stiff
fighting culminated in the securing of Munda air strip in August
1943. A rest period in New Zealand followed, and the next major
battle would be the landings on Luzon early in 1945. Technician
Fourth Grade Laverne Parrish (pictured at right) of the 161st's
Medical Detachment won the Medal of Honor during the 165 day
campaign on Luzon. The award was posthumous.
After nearly four
months of continuous combat, the Regiment stood down, and would
see no more action in the Pacific, moving to Japan for
occupation duty and deactivation.
In 1946, the
161st Infantry Regiment again returned to the 41st Division. While
the Tropic Lightning Division went to Korea, the 161st stayed inactive
in Washington State, training companies in the Spokane area. The 41st
Division changed from a three Regiment organization to a five Battle
group order of battle in the 1950s, and emphasis began to be placed on
civil defence in the wake of atomic and nuclear attack. The Guard was
called out in 1960 to battle forest fires, and in 1963 the Battle
Group organization was dropped. The 161st was reorganized into two
battalions, one in Spokane and one in Everett, with authorized
strength of 486 officers and men. This was increased to 841 in 1965
when the 161st was selected to be a Selected Reserve Force - a combat
ready National Guard unit. The 41st Division was deactivated in
January 1968, and a 3rd Battalion of the 161st was formed in Seattle
that same month. The three battalions of the Regiment became the
combat arm of the 81st Infantry Brigade - a combat unit organized
completely within Washington State.
Infantry Brigade became mechanized in 1971, with the Regiment again
reorganized into a two battalion structure. The 161st was called out
for state duty in 1972 to assist with floods. The eruption of
St. Helens in 1980 again had the 1st Battalion ordered to active duty
to help clean up the ash fallout. As in 1972, this summer callout
ended just before the annual summer camp.
United States Army does not award Battle Honours as such, they do list
the following campaign credits for this Regiment:
Campaign Participation Credit
Philippine Insurrection 1898
World War I (without inscription)1917
World War II 1941
Northern Solomons 1943
Company A (Wenatchee), 1st
Battalion, additionally entitled to:
World War II - EAME
Company E (Spokane), 1st Battalion, additionally entitled to:
World War II - EAME
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Streamer embroidered 17 OCTOBER
1944 TO 4 JULY 1945
Company C (Pullman), 1st Battalion, additionally entitled to:
Presidential Unit Citation (Army), Streamer embroidered LUZON
Company E (Spokane), 1st Battalion, additionally entitled to: Belgian
Fourragere 1940, Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for
action in the ARDENNES and Cited in the Order of the Day of the
Belgian Army for action in BELGIUM AND GERMANY
American National Guard becomes a very active component of the
United States military in times of crisis. In 2004, the 1st
Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment deployed to the Middle East
to take part in ongoing combat operations in Iraq. The
battalion activated in November 2003, trained in Fort Lewis,
Washington and in California, and deployed to Kuwait in
mid-April 2004, from where it moved into Iraq. The Battalion
has operated as part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the
famous 1st Cavalry Division. The Division, with roots dating
back to the horse cavalry, was deployed to Vietnam in 1965 as a
test-bed for the concept of "airmobile" operations. The
Division - known by the nickname "The First Team" - served in
Vietnam until 1972, and later also served in the first Gulf War.
The First of the 161st
moved to Camp Gunner; which after taking over from the 1st
Armored Division was renamed Forward Operating Base Highlander
(named, it is reported, to recognize the close relationship
between the 1/161 and The Calgary Highlanders).
came down, however, that in recognition of local political
sensibilities, all American camps were to be given Iraqi names.
Sometime around August of 2004, FOB Highlander became FOB
Prosperity, or "Al Izdahar" in Iraqi.
Duties in this region included providing
provided security for the Green Zone as well as conducting
combat operations and civil affairs reconstruction activities in
The 1st Battalion
completed its tour of duty and returned home in April 2005.
soldiers of the First Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, made
the supreme sacrifice while serving on combat operations in
Sergeant Damien T. Ficek, of Pullman, Washington, was killed
on 30 December 2004 when his patrol was attacked by small arms
fire in Baghdad. Ficek had been studying at Washington State
University until the autumn of 2003 when the First of the 161st
was activated. Ficek left behind a wife, Kyla and was survived
by his parents and two brothers.
Damien T. Ficek
Donald R. McCune of Ypsilanti, Michigan was assigned to the
1st Battalion when he died on 5 August 2004 in Landstuhl,
Germany, of injuries sustained the day before when an improvised
explosive device detonated near his patrol in Balad, Iraq.
McCune was 20 years of age.
Donald R. McCune
W. Schmunk, of Richland Washington was serving with Company
C on 8 July 2004 when his vehicle came under fire by small arms
and rocket-propelled grenades in Baghdad. He was 21 years of
age when he died.
Photo courtesy Specialist
Matt O'Boyle, Company B, 1/161 Infantry.
Jeremiah W. Schmunk
R. Shaver of Maple Valley, Washington was killed on 12 May 2004
when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Baghdad.
He was 26 years of age and is the first Washington National
Guardsman killed in combat since the Korean War (1950-53).
Jeffrey R. Shaver
|Gold Spurs Awarded to
(US Army photos, Staff Sergeant Susan German, 122 Mobile
Public Affairs Detachment)
Members of the Scout Platoon,
Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment -
serving with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry
Division - were awarded yellow ascots and spurs in a ceremony at
Camp Prosperity in Iraq in November 2004.
Photo at bottom, centre, shows
Staff Sergeant Chris Haag of the Scout Platoon tying a
traditional yellow ascot around the neck of scout Corporal Brent
Nice. Haag, from Spokane, had traditional crossed sabers added
to the ascots by his aunt. Corporal Nice hailed from Pullman,
Washington. Gold spurs were also awarded at this ceremony. The
black hats are also a traditional affectation of United States
Army cavalry units.
The new cavalry use
motorized vehicles rather than horses; at right, Scouts from the 1st
Battalion, 161st Regiment wait to be towed after sinking into an open
sewer while on patrol through an impoverished neighborhood in southern
Baghdad, Iraq on Wednesday, 2 February 2005.
(AP Photo/John Moore)