Ky. Guardsmen respond to Iranian ballistic missile attack

by Capt. Michael Hart & Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Harris, 206th Engineer Battalion

Lt. Col. Michael Lawson, 206th Battalion Commander, presents the Combat Action Badge to members of the 206th Engineer Battalion after their response to the Iranian missile attack in January, 2020. Based out of Owensboro, Ky., Members of the 206th Engineer Battalion deployed to the Middle East on July 25, 2019. The unit has completed their deployment and returned back to the states in May 2020. (Photo Courtesy 206th Engineer Battalion)

Al Asad Air Base, Iraq – -In the early hours of January 8, 2020, Soldiers of the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 206th Engineer Battalion stationed at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, endured a ballistic missile attack from Iran.

To see more photos from the deployment, please click HERE.

Iranian news agencies said ballistic missiles were fired at Al Asad Air Base and at the Air Base at Erbil in retaliation for the death of Major General Qasem Soleimani. 

According to Iranian news agencies, the Iranians called the missile strike Operation Martyyr Soleimani. In all, about 14 missiles hit Al Asad Air Base.

The 206th Engineer Battalion of Owensboro, Kentucky was supporting Task Force Frontier. They’d been operating out of the base for just four months when the strike occurred.

The event followed a series of escalatory actions that began the prior summer when Iran shot down two U.S. drones, just prior to the arrival of the 206th Engineers. 

The 206th found themselves in an increasingly hostile situation as the forward operating bases they were assigned to gradually became more and more the target of indirect fire attacks from local militia groups supported by Iran. 

The attacks directly affected engineer operations as force protection became progressively more important. In addition, some projects were significantly impacted due to slower logistics deliveries and a heightened security posture. 

Most Task Force Frontier locations were prepared to withstand the more common Katyusha rocket munition because of concrete barriers and walls already positioned throughout the base. Ballistic missiles however, are a more lethal threat.

“We created a new battle drill that night,” said Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Michael Lawson.  “Preservation of life was the highest priority.”

When Soldiers emerged from their bunkers after the attack, which lasted several hours, they immediately went to work on a multitude of projects. Some helped clean-up debris on the airfield, while others began to repair facilities on the base. 

“We were already busy, but we got even busier after the attack,” said 1st Sgt. Chadwick Larkin. “I thought we really contributed to rebuilding the base after the attack.”

The battalion responded to the attack and led the engineer effort for the base by building additional force protection structures and setting the conditions for follow-on missions.

The total cost associated with base damage, clean-up, and repair was 10.6 million dollars. Of that total, troop labor from the 206th saved the government 2.4 million dollars.

Lawson concluded, “Task Force Frontier Soldiers were committed to the mission and showed a tremendous amount of resiliency. I am extremely proud of their efforts during that challenging time.”

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