947th Army National Guard Engineer Battalion to Take Over Their Facility
MONTROSE – The 928 Area Support Medical Company National Guard unit partially stationed in Montrose will soon say goodbye to the community and relocate to a new home in Fort Carson, on the Front Range.
The 85-member group of medical professionals, teachers, police officers, construction workers, college students, husbands, wives, sons and daughters nicknamed “the Witch Doctors" will hold a community celebration on Saturday, April 6, honoring the community that has long supported its citizen soldiers.
Volunteers will serve hotdogs as the unit sets up a recreation of a fully functional military field hospital, in a large dome tent, to demonstrate the kind of Level 1 care the Witch Doctors provide in conflict zones.
"We want people to explore and understand what a combat medic is like, and demonstrate to the residents here what the unit is all about," said First Sgt. Ray Hotchkiss a spokesperson of the 928.
Hotchkiss said the unit is being relocated because about two-thirds of its members live on the Front Range.
"It's just easier to manage the unit over there," he said.
The Witch Doctors’ last deployment was in January 2011, when they picked up and relocated to operate some 7,000 miles away, in Afghanistan.
That deployment ceremony was attended by thousands. Main Street was closed and the soldiers were honored with a fly-over and, on the ground, with cheers and hugs.
"They really supported us that day," Hotchkiss remembers.
The 928 was trained to provide multi-level care in five separate operations along the Afghan theater, including serving as "back up" to the company-level medics treating combat-related injuries suffered at the hands of an enemy that’s been fighting in the same terrain for over 30 years. Their purpose is to receive patients from the medics, provide basic trauma care, and stabilize the wounded for transport to a larger hospital.
The unit consists of a variety of doctors, registered nurses, physician assistants, medics and EMTs; its duties include emergency treatment, sick calls and ground-ambulance evacuations from the forward operating positions.
In addition to the medical staff, a large group of cooks, mechanics and radio operators aid in the unit's logistics.
In January 2012, the unit was welcomed home with a bookend ceremony in which celebrants’ tears of sadness were replaced with tears of joy.
Montrose “showed us a homecoming that I would have never have believe, unless I saw it myself," Hotchkiss said.
The unit was officially based out of Denver and Montrose; its members came from nearly every community on the Western Slope, including Rifle, Grand Junction, Montrose, Delta, Hotchkiss and Austin.
Fort Carson is the the site of the the unit’s previous training operations.
According to Emily Smith, of Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center, the April event will have members of the 947th Army National Guard engineer battalion from Grand Junction in attendance. That gives the 947th a chance to introduce themselves to the community before moving into the facility being vacated by the 928th, sometime this summer. The 947 has similar units at Fort Carson and in Durango.
“It’s a chance to say goodbye, but it is also a way to greet the new unit,” Hotchkiss said, of what’s effectively a changing of the guard.
The April 6 program kicks off at 2 p.m. at the armory, located at 12147 6390 Road, on the northwest side of Montrose Regional Airport.
Before 2011, the 928 was deployed to Iraq in early 2004, serving as support for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
To donate or volunteer, contact Welcome Home Montrose at 970/765-2210.