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1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, Washington Army National Guard

The Calgary 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.

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Unit Name

Armory Location
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry


Company A, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry      Kent
Company B, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry      Kent
Company C, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry      Spokane
DET 1, Company C, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry     Pullman
DET 2, Company C, 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry     Colville

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.

Opportunities to 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.

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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" Company). 

Photo Credits - Captain Russ Meades, Calgary Highlanders, originally published in The Maple Leaf

Brief History

The first 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.

Two 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.

The 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 Artillery.

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.

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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 fatalities.

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.

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Taking over 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.

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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.

The 81st 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 Mount 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.

While the 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
Luzon 1899
World War I (without inscription)1917
World War II 1941
Guadalcanal 1942
Luzon 1943
Northern Solomons 1943

Company A (Wenatchee), 1st Battalion, additionally entitled to:

World War II - EAME
Central Europe

Company E (Spokane), 1st Battalion, additionally entitled to:

World War II - EAME
Central Europe

Unit Decorations

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

Iraq War

The 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).  Subsequent orders 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.

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Duties in this region included providing
provided security for the Green Zone as well as conducting combat operations and civil affairs reconstruction activities in southeast Baghdad.

The 1st Battalion completed its tour of duty and returned home in April 2005.

Four soldiers of the First Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, made the supreme sacrifice while serving on combat operations in Iraq.

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.

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Damien T. Ficek

Specialist 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.

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Donald R. McCune

Specialist Jeremiah 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.

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Jeremiah W. Schmunk

Sergeant Jeffrey 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). 

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Jeffrey R. Shaver

Gold Spurs Awarded to Cavalry Scouts
(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.

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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)

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