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Story by: Eric Durr - Division of Military and Naval Affairs
Dated: Mon, Apr 8, 2013
HANCOCK AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SYRACUSE , NY (04/06/2013)(readMedia)-- Lt. Col. Joseph Biehler, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, took command of the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Team during a change of command ceremony here this morning in the base main hanger. Biehler replaces Col. Geoffrey Slack, who has commanded the 27th Brigade Combat Team since August 2009. Slack trained and deployed the brigade for operations in Afghanistan and Kuwait in 2011 and 2012. The flag of the brigade, which was originally organized as a division to fight in World War I, transferred from Slack to Beihler during a traditional change of command ceremony. Representatives of the brigade’s five battalions, which are stationed across the state, were present. Major General Steven Wickstrom, the commander of the 42nd Infantry Division and the presiding officer at the ceremony, described Biehler as one of the most outstanding leaders in the New York Army National Guard. Biehler has been tempered in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has proven himself, Wickstrom said. "We have high expectations of you and I am sure you are going to do an excellent job," Wickstrom said. Biehler, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in May 1987, is a Finance Senior Manager for Rochester’s Harris Corporation in Rochester in civilian life. Wickstrom praised Slack, the outgoing commander, as being one of the "heroes" of the New York National Guard. Prior to taking command of the 27th Brigade, Slack led the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry in Iraq in 2005. In his remarks Biehler praised the Soldiers of the brigade, saying they have met the challenges placed before them since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 both at home and overseas. Biehler’s last assignment was as commander of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry. He was the battalion’s operations officer during its deployment to Iraq in 2004 and commanded the battalion during its recent deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 as Task Force Iron. The task force mobilized in January 2012 and deployed to Afghanistan where it was responsible for enhancing the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces to secure Highway One in from Herat City to Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan. Biehler is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Combined Arms Staff Service School, Intermediate Level Education, Infantry Pre-Command Course, Airborne School, Air Assault School, and Ranger School. He is currently enrolled in the Army War College, a military school for senior Army leaders. Biehler has earned Bachelor’s of Science degrees in both Accounting and Management from St. John Fisher College in 1987 and is a Finance Senior Manager for Rochester’s Harris Corporation in civilian life. Biehler’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal National Defense Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Basic Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Ranger Tab, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. His new position will also bring a promotion to Colonel. He and his wife Sonya live in Webster, N.Y. with their twin sons Thomas and Andrew. Slack has served in the Active Army and Army National Guard since 1979 when he graduated from Hofstra University. After leaving the Active Army in 1982, where he served in the 1st Infantry Division, Col. Slack served in the Individual Ready Reserve before joining the New York Army National Guard in 1987. As a member of the National Guard he served as an infantry company commander, a headquarters company commander, logistics officer, division staff officer, and operations and executive officer. He assumed command of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry, made famous as the "Fighting 69th" in the Civil War and World War I, in 2000. On Sept, 11, 2001 he and his battalion mobilized to respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center and he deployed his men to "Ground Zero" the next day. Soldiers from the 1-69th went on to guard the United States Military Academy at West Point and airports in the days following the 9/11 attacks. In the spring of 2004 the 1-69th Infantry was mobilized to deploy to Iraq as part of the 256th Infantry Brigade from the Louisiana Army National Guard. The battalion trained for 6 months and then deployed to Baghdad. During that deployment the battalion was tasked with securing the road from the Baghdad International Airport to downtown Baghdad, known to the Army as "Route Irish." At that time the road was known for being the most dangerous stretch of road in Iraq and the 1-69th Infantry effectively shut down the insurgency on that stretch of road. Following his return from Iraq Col. Slack was named the operations officer of the 42nd Infantry Division and went on to receive a Masters of Strategic Science at the Army War College. He is also a graduate of Command and General Staff College and the Basic and Advanced Infantry Officer courses. Slack’s hometown is Mastic Beach, N.Y. He and his wife Debbie have two children, William and Mary. His awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, seven Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal, the Parachutists badge and the Air Assault badge. He retires from military service later this year. Today’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat team is a descendent of the New York National Guard’s 27th Division of World War I and World War II. During the 1st World War the 27th Division served under British command with the U.S. 30th Division and played a key role in breaking through German defenses known as the Hindenburg line and ending that conflict. In World War II Soldiers of the 27th Division fought their way through the Pacific, invading and capturing the Island of Saipan, where division units survived the most ferocious Japanese Banzai attack of the war, and the islands of Makin and Eniwetok before landing on Okinawa. In 1955 the Division became an armored division and in 1967 it was reorganized into a brigade under the 50th Armored Division, headquartered in New Jersey. In the 1980s the 27th Infantry Brigade was designated as a "round out" unit to the 10th Mountain Division and in 1995 it became one of the National Guard’s "enhanced brigades" designed to deploy early to a conflict. The brigade reorganized after 2001 as an Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The brigade’s 3,500 Soldiers are stationed across New York from Farmingdale on Long Island to Jamestown in Chautauqua County and Morrisonville in the North Country in four combat and two support battalions. In 2007 the 27th IBCT began training for deployment to Afghanistan and in January 2008 mobilized to lead Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix VII for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The 27th IBCT transferred mission authority in December, 2008 and returned home to New York by early January, 2009. The 27th Brigade began training preparations again in 2011 for deployment to Afghanistan. In 2012 the brigade was reassigned for multiple missions in Kuwait, other Persian Gulf states and Afghanistan instead, and Slack led 1,750 New York Soldiers from the brigade during that deployment. Brigade Soldiers also responded to help New Yorkers deal with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Tropical Storms Irene and Lee in 2011.