As of July 2008, units of the 39th Brigade are deployed to Iraq. Unlike the last deployment to Iraq from 2004-2005, the 39th Brigade Headquarters does not have command and control of all of its subordinate units. Many company sized units of the Brigade have been attached to Regular Army units.
The 39th BCT is the largest National Guard command in Arkansas. It is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was placed in federal service on October 12, 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The 39th was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division and served in and around Baghdad for a year, returning to the United States in March 2005. In late August 2005, after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, elements of the 39th, then commanded by Colonel Mike Ross, were among the first military units to provide recovery and relief efforts to citizens of New Orleans, Louisiana. The 39th lead the effort to evacuate an estimated 16,000 people from the New Orleans Convention Center.
In World War II the unit was never activated and its troops were instead parceled out to other fighting units. Many soldiers from the 39th volunteered to fight with the US 3rd Armored Division. In 1947 the 39th was transferred to Arkansas and the Louisiana troops were assigned their own command. The unit was briefly federalized in 1957 during the Little Rock Integration Crisis.
In the spring of 1999, B Co, 2nd battalion of the 39th was activated for Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait. The mission lasted a total of seven months, and was the first "pure" national guard effort in the region. C Co of the Brigade's 1st Battalion carried on the 39th's role in Operation Southern Watch when they replaced B Co. in September of 1999. On October 10, 2001, Second Battalion of the brigade was activated in support of the Global War on Terror. Second Battalion was sent to Egypt in order to take over the Multinational Force and Observers mission, freeing up regular army infantry units to deploy to Afghanistan. This was the first "pure" national guard takeover of the MFO mission. Second battalion deactivated on October 11, 2002.
On October 12, 2003, the brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Ronald Chastain (now Major General), was ordered to federal service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II for a period of up to 18 months. Second battalion, now non-deployable under current NGB rules, was merged with the brigade's third battalion. Fillers were attached from Connecticut, New York and Oregon. While in Iraq, the brigade was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by Major General Peter W. Chiarelli (now a Lieutenant General) as the 39th Brigade Combat Team. The 39th spent 6 months conducting training in the United States before serving one year on the ground in Iraq.
Prior to departing the United States for the mission in Iraq, the 39th trained at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. While there, on February 17, 2004, President George W. Bush visited the 39th and had an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) lunch in a field mess tent with soldiers. After lunch, President Bush made brief remarks to the soldiers.
Elements of the brigade were headquartered in the Green Zone in Baghdad with the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division while others were stationed at Camp Cooke in Taji, Iraq. During this time, the members of the brigade's 239th Engineer Company stationed in Camp Cooke and their families back in Arkansas were the subject of a TV documentary series that aired on the Discovery Times channel called Off To War. The 39th was also covered by embedded reporter Amy Schlesing of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette for the entire time in Iraq.
In April 2004 the 39th came under rocket attack at Camp Cooke in Taji, resulting in 4 killed in action, all members of the 39th Support Battalion, headquartered in Hazen, Arkansas. April 24 was the highest single day casualty total for Arkansas soldiers since the Korean War. The most coordinated enemy attack the Brigade had seen occurred on November 20, 2004 when twenty-six 39th soldiers were ambushed near Ft. Apache in North Baghdad. They fended off over 100 insurgents for several hours without ammo resupply or support. The officer in charge, despite being wounded, endured intense enemy direct fire and personally neutralized an enemy machine gun emplacement without support. The officer received the Silver Star for going above and beyond the call of duty.
After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August 2005, elements of the 39th deployed to New Orleans by C-130s from the Little Rock Air Force Base to support the relief and recovery efforts there. Under tactical control of the Louisiana National Guard, 39th soldiers were given the mission of providing security and food and water to an estimated 20,000 people at the New Orleans Convention Center on September 2nd. By the afternoon of September 3rd, all individuals staying in and around the Convention Center had been evacuated. The mission of the 39th in Louisiana grew to the point that at one time the brigade was responsible for working with local officials in 14 parishes. Elements of the 39th and the Arkansas National Guard stayed deployed in Louisiana until February 2006.
The 39th was placed on duty in October 2007 to prepare for its second deployment to Iraq while still under state control. This allowed the unit to perform certain tasks in Arkansas and allowed unit members to be closer to their families for a longer period of time. It was placed in Federal Service in January 2008 and trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi until it deployed beginning in March 2008 to Iraq.
The brigade, and its subordinate units, have been deployed more the last 5 years than the previous 50 years.
The 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard was part of the 1st Cavalry Division during the yearlong deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Mobilized for a total of 18 months, the 39th was the largest and longest serving Arkansas Army National Guard unit to be deployed since World War II.
The day’s events started with the “39th Brigade Combat Team Fallen Heroes Memorial Ride” where over two thousand motorcyclists rode from the Clear Channel Metroplex in Little Rock to the front of the State Capitol. Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW3) Dennis Bradley of Benton, Arkansas, had the concept for the memorial while the 39th Infantry Brigade was still in Iraq and opened the memorial event. SGT Tammy Holman of Little Rock sang the National Anthem, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance lead by SPC James Carter. Chaplain (COL) David McLemore of Russellville, who served with the 39th in Iraq, offered the opening prayer.
The honored guests for the memorial program were the family members of those who died. Over 100 relatives of the honored soldiers were present. Brigadier General Ron Chastain, who commanded the 39th while in Iraq, Major General Don C. Morrow, the Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, and Secretary of State Charlie Daniels were the featured speakers for the memorial program. Colonel Mike Ross of North Little Rock served as the master of ceremonies for the memorial event.
Lieutenant Colonel John Edwards of Little Rock, the Staff Judge Advocate of the 39th in Iraq, read a proclamation by Governor Mike Huckabee naming April 24, 2005, “39th Infantry Brigade Fallen Heroes Day.” Edwards also read the 33 names of those who died in Iraq while Command Sergeant Major Larry Isbell, the highest ranking enlisted member of the 39th Infantry Brigade, assisted family members in ringing the bell from the USS Arkansas in a memorial tribute. Jaelun Felder, the eight year old son of the late Captain Arthur “Bo” Felder of Lewisville, Arkansas, read a poem entitled “My Father the Hero.”
Prior to the event, Secretary of State Daniels hosted a reception in the old Supreme Court Chamber in the State Capitol for the family members of the lost soldiers of the 39th.
In May 2007, the service of several of the Brigade's units was recognized:
SECOND IRAQ DEPLOYMENT
As of August 31st, 2008, one member of the 39th has died during the current deployment to Iraq. Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Lynn Woodham, 37, of Rogers, Ark., a member of Arkansas National Guard Delta Company, 39th Brigade Support Battalion, 39th Brigade Combat Team of Heber Springs, Ark., died July 5, at Camp Adder, Tallil, Iraq, from non-combat related injuries.