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NEWS | May 21, 2010

Louisiana Guardsman earns award for valor

By Courtesy Story

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - A scout platoon squad leader with 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana Army National Guard engaged in a firefight in Iraq and fought with valor to ensure safety of his fellow Soldiers on March 10, 2005.

Five years later, that soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Champagne, the electronic warfare officer with the BCT's  Headquarters and Headquarters Company, received the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device, April 30, for his actions that night.

Champagne recalled the events earning him the award.

"We were sitting at an observation point," he said. "We had four guys sleeping down at the bottom of a building that we were on top of. We were attacked in force by about 15 or 20 guys, pinning my guys down at the bottom."

He and two of his other Soldiers provided fire support to assist his buddies at the bottom of the building, Champagne said.

"We laid down suppressive fire for about 30 or 40 minutes until we got the enemy to bound back and break contact with us," he said. "We received wheel support probably about three hours afterwards and were able to break contact ourselves at that point and leave."

He would have expected all Soldiers to react the same way, based on the seven Army values, and put little thought into receiving an award for that night's events, Champagne said.

"Two years after the deployment, at a wedding, my platoon sergeant asked where my award was because he didn't see a 'V' on my chest," Champagne said. "I said … I never got any kind of award.

Two years after we redeployed from Iraq, he began the process of finding out what happened to it … five years later I received it."

The military has specific regulations with regard to awarding Army service medals and ribbons, said Lt. Col. Eric Rivers, commander of the BCT.

"Once you leave theater, you have two years by the regulation to get an award corrected or an award submitted, or mainly one that was never submitted," Rivers said. "So the process, we initially thought since we were back in Louisiana, was that we should push it forward the same way."

"It's an ARCOM … but it's an ARCOM with a 'V' device for valor," he said. "The approval authority for an ARCOM is the brigade commander. However, once we got it up to the brigade commander they started digging into the regulations and not only did we have to go back through the brigade commander, but it had to go to state, then up to the National Guard Bureau and ultimately to the Department of Defense to get submitted."

Despite the years of time, the unit spent to correct a simple oversight, Soldier and family recognition take priority in his command, Rivers said.

"This is something that should've been awarded the first time," Rivers said. "It's a long time coming and I think the biggest key is if you identify the problem, with persistence, you can get it fixed. It means a lot to the Soldier and to his family down the line."

While Champagne and Rivers deployed with the same unit this time, they both acknowledged the role of the 256th IBCT is much different, as Iraq gains stability and is better prepared to handle its own security.

"It is completely night and day," Champagne said. "Last time we were running full-spectrum operations; kicking in doors [and] looking for terrorists. Things have stabilized in this country completely. I've only been outside the wire once since I've been back here."

With the current role of the 256th being base defense and convoy escort in support of the upcoming responsible drawdown of U.S. troops and equipment in Iraq, there is still no better Soldier to have on his team than Champagne, Rivers said.

"Sgt. 1st Class Champagne is an outstanding non-commissioned officer," he said. "They don't come any better than him. He is one of those guys I can go to and say we need to get this done; and hey, it's done. I could not ask for a better NCO. I love working with him."

"For whatever reason, this award slipped through the cracks," Rivers said. "Then you wind up back here in Iraq; actually in the exact same place, Camp Liberty, almost in the same battalion headquarters. It's kind of eerie in a certain way."