MONTROSE – Zach Dancy was punched in the chest, propelling him back a few paces and leaving him short of breath. Moments before, Dancy had been promoted from Private First Class to Specialist in the last ceremony the Colorado National Guard 928th Area Support Medical Company would ever hold in Montrose, with the unit departing for Fort Carson (near Colorado Springs).
Dancy knew the treatment was coming – it’s a standard display of brazen respect from fellow soldiers following promotions.
"Oh, you’re gonna get it today," Sgt. Greg Gresh, standing nearby, had said, laughing.
The 928th ASMC said goodbye on Saturday, April 6, to the Montrose community, which present Commanding Officer Capt. Travis Hudson praised for always being "so supportive" of the 928th (fondly referred to as the Witch Doctors), most especially during their most recent year-long tearful deployment, January 2011 through January 2012.
At Saturday’s farewell, scores of residents, from civilians to veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and more recent American military conflicts, turned out for hot dogs, live demonstrations and a chance to greet the members of the 947th Engineer Company, who will relocate from Grand Junction to the Montrose armory this year.
"This is really indicative of how they [the citizens of Montrose] have treated us,” Hudson said of the enthusiastic turnout. “The City of Montrose has identified the 928th as their army unit," he said, who, like 80 percent of the unit's members, lives on the Front Range, but said he “really didn’t mind” the Montrose commute.
Nonetheless, "It's a really good day to come out and celebrate 928th Day here in Montrose," he told the crowd reminding the attendees that the Montrose City Council recently declared April 6 as 928th ASMC day. "We have some of the best medics, doctors and medical personnel working in the Army today," he said proudly.
The 928th set up a rough representation of an Army field hospital on the adobe clay grounds of the Montrose armory, in a staging effort to recreate terrain on the Afghanistan frontier some 7,000 miles away, said 928 First Sgt. Raymond Hotchkiss. An emergency room, X-ray room and other medical areas were set up in a huge green tent described by Hotchkiss as only being able to provide a very limited amount of care, since the unit is usually working from constructed buildings.
For the incoming 947th, Montrose is now home to two platoons of National Guard soldiers, including the First Platoon from Grand Junction and the Second Platoon from Ft. Carson. The 947th’s third platoon is based in Durango, according to 947th Lt. Matthew Macias.
Macias said the 947th's mission is "horizontal construction," designed to survey and construct roads, combat trails and other infrastructure in times of need in “not only in our communities in times of disaster, but also overseas.”
The 947th’s last deployment was to Iraq in 2006; since then, the unit has completed projects including a new dam to prevent flooding in parts of Grand Junction, water park construction in Durango and a fairgrounds renovation near Pagosa Springs.
Scrapers, graders, D-7 dozers, 5-yard front loaders, excavating equipment, tractor trailers, and 20-ton dump trucks will be stored in Montrose, with minor renovations to the National Guard facility to accommodate the heavy equipment.
The 947th Engineer Company is part of the 1-157 Infantry Battalion, and will officially be part of Montrose in the coming months.