Support Group activation held at local airport


 By Donna Thornton/News Editor
    A ceremony Nov. 18, attended by state, city and Army officials officially marked the activation of a new Army National Guard battalion at the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport.
    The location of the Group Support Battalion 20th Special Forces Group is expected to mark a sort of reactivation of the local economy, bringing hundreds of Guard members to the region for training at the former Air National Guard facility.
    And for this Special Forces Group, the activation marks a period of growth. The Special Forces Support Group, upon becoming a battalion, will increase in the next few years from 256 members to 720 members, Lt. Col. Philip Clayton, who will command the group said.
Clayton said work will be done on the four buildings of the former Air National Guard facility to get ready for the support group’s occupation. That should come, he said, after the first the year.
    During the ceremony, which featured the 101st Army Band, Clayton shared some of the history that led to the activation of the battalion.
    The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 put the United States in a situation it had not faced since the attack on Pearl Harbor, Clayton said.
    When the United States determined that the solution was to take down the Taliban in Afghanistan, and employed Special Forces to do so, it was determined that there was not enough support for the Special Forces to perform the operations being undertaken.
    The needs recognized then paved the way for groups like the 20th Special Forces Group, to provide the soft logistics and other support to supply move and make possible the missions of the Army’s Special Forces.
    The 20th Battalion is one of only seven such support groups in the United States, Clayton said.
    The work of the group, Clayton said, “is intrinsically tied to the defense of this nation.”
    With only seven such support groups in the nation , he said, an activation ceremony such as the one Nov. 18 is a rare event. In addition to bringing jobs and being an economic driver in the community, Clayton said, the group will be a resource for the community, standing ready to assist the local emergency responders in time of need.
    Alabama Sen. Phil Williams was among those who welcomed the group to the Gadsden area, and vouched for the value of the work such groups do in supporting operations.
    City of Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton and members of the Gadsden City Council including Ben Reed, Billy Harris and Deverick Williams, Gadsden Airport Authority Fred Sington and authority member Frankie Davis were present as well. Guyton presented Clayton with a key to the city.
    “I can’t tell you how proud we are to welcome you here,” he said.

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