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New leader to take National Guard unit into Afghanistan

POSTED: June 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Maj. Matthew Smith chats with friends after Sunday morning's Georgia Army national Guard 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment change of command ceremony at the Atlanta Falcons Flowery Branch facility. Smith takes over command from Lt. Col. Andy Hall.

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A local National Guard battalion performed a time-honored tradition with a change of command ceremony Sunday at the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch.

The 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment ushered in Maj. Matt Smith, who will replace Lt. Col. Andy Hall as the new commander of the battalion, headquartered in Winder.

"It brings changes in focus and leadership style," Smith said. "(Hall) is handing off a great unit at the top of its game. The trick is to keep it going."

Hall, the outgoing commander, was selected for officer training at the War College in Pennsylvania.

"I’m sad," he said. "I want to be here, but I’ll take that honor."

Hall said being a commander was the "best job in the Army" and hopes to have the opportunity to do it again.

The unit of about 900, which went to Iraq in 2006, is set to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.

"There’s some degree of apprehension, some degree of excitement, even some dread," Smith said about the mobilization.

Smith said having the ceremony on Father’s Day was "even more humbling."

"Most of these guys are probably fathers. It’s a big responsibility. There’s a family behind all these soldiers," he said.

Capt. Jeffrey Moran, who was chosen to be the commander of Charlie Company in Gainesville, said he was glad to have his father and son in the audience for what he called the "highlight of my career."

"It’s a huge honor and responsibility," he said. "I am entrusted with (soldiers’) lives and safety."

Col. Lee Durham said the unit’s mission in Afghanistan will be training the Afghan National Army and National Police.

"Their mission is vitally important to get the U.S. (troops) out," Durham said.

Moran said the people of Hall County have been very supportive of the National Guard.

"Everywhere you go, you can sense they support you. Everyone wants to help," he said.

Hall said a good way for people interested in helping the families of soldiers oversees is to go to patriotscall.com

The Web site was designed to connect people who are willing to provide services with the families of deployed soldiers.

"It’s a good way for people to serve," he said. "It gives them a way to support our families."



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