Alabama National Guard infantry battalion changes command following Afghanistan deployment

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Lt. Col. Phil Williams, new commander of the 1st of the 167th Infantry Battalion, salutes the flag at the change of command ceremony, Nov. 3, 2013. Photo by Maj. Mike Tomberlin

FORT MCCLELLAN, AL (11/06/2013)(readMedia)-- Lt. Col. Phil Williams took command of the 1st of the 167th Infantry Battalion at a ceremony at Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center, Nov. 3, 2013, following the historic unit's successful deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom earlier this year.

Williams replaced Lt. Col. J.R. Bass, who joined the battalion as its commander prior to the deployment to Afghanistan and commanded more than 600 deployed Soldiers throughout its duration and their return in May 2013. It was the first time the entire battalion had deployed since World War II.

At a change of command ceremony, Bass said he took pride in serving in the battalion who carries the name 4th Alabama, because it traces its lineage to before the Civil War and the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The battalion colors carry streamers from dozens of campaigns in nearly every major and minor conflict since.

"Today is not about me. Today is to recognize these Soldiers who stand before you and those colors," Bass said. "There is an old Army saying that commanders come and go, but the Soldiers are the heart and soul of the organization. I hope everyone standing here today remembers that."

Bass said each of the streamers on the battalion's colors "represent a distinguished chapter in the 4th Alabama history that dates back to 1836."

"I am profoundly honored to have served with you during this most recent chapter in our history in Afghanistan," he said.

Soldiers of the 4th Alabama wear a tab signifying that historic lineage. Bass referenced that tab and the battalion's motto, Signa Inferemus, in his remarks. "For all of you who wear the tab, I will simply say one last time, 'Drive forward,'" he said.

Williams takes command of more than 800 soldiers and also referenced the rich history of the unit he now leads. "It is really a humbling and honoring experience for me to join this legacy," he said. "This is a wonderful and gainful unit. My hope is that on and off duty you hold this unit with some degree of reverence."

He said he can imagine when others ask soldiers of the 167th what unit they belong to, their pride will be evident in their reply.

"I would desire that your response would be something like, 'I'm not with just any unit. I am, by the grace of God, with the 4th Alabama.' Because we are part of that legacy and we do have a future yet to forge, but, man, we've got a great platform to stand on," Williams said.

Williams shared his expectations as the new leader of the 167th.

"I expect three things, really: That this unit will be proficient, effective and cohesive to live up to the legacy it already has," he said.

In the traditional military ceremony, the 167th colors were passed from Command Sgt. Maj. John Black, command sergeant major of the 167th, to Lt. Col. Bass. Bass then passed the colors to Col. John Hill, commander of the 62nd Troop Command (the 167th's higher headquarters), who then passed them to Lt. Col. Williams. Williams completed the military ritual by handing the colors back to his command sergeant major.

"Your tenure as commander is to be commended," Hill told Bass before addressing Williams. "Phil, I challenge you to take this battalion on to the next level, continuing onward."

Williams has served as an Infantry officer and a Civil Affairs officer, including a deployment to Iraq and service at the Pentagon.

The 167th operated for nine months throughout Afghanistan as Task Force Centurion Prime where it was charged with providing personal security and maneuver in support of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, to include senior leaders, top officials, trainers, advisors and inspectors. Its more than 600 Alabama National Guard Soldiers operated in all six Afghanistan Regional Support Commands in 14 separate locations. During the nine months, the battalion completed more than 12,000 missions, safely transported nearly 43,000 personnel and traveled more than 142,648 miles throughout Afghanistan.

The 167th Infantry traces its roots to the Civil War when it was part of the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment. It has played a role in nearly every major war and campaign since, including a legendary stint in France during World War I.