New York's 'Fighting 69th' Leads City Celebration as Troops Prepare for Upcoming Deployment

NEW YORK-- Marching through Manhattan to the sounds of an echoing bagpipe, the New York Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, known as the Army's "Fighting 69th" presented themselves once again to the people of New York City in a tradition that has been upheld every March 17 for 160 years, for the Saint Patrick's day parade.

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"On St. Patrick's Day everyone wishes that they were Irish," said Maj. Gen. Steven Wickstrom, commander of the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division. "On St. Patrick's Day everyone wishes they were in New York City. And in our Army, on St. Patrick's Day every Soldier wishes he was in the 69th Infantry Regiment.

The city has held the parade for 250 years, beginning in 1761, some 15 years before the Declaration of Independence. History has brought much change to the city and the Army since then.

"In all those years, among all the change in New York City, our nation and our Army, the service of the 69th and their ties to New York has never wavered," said Maj. James C. Gonyo, commander of the battalion.

"The face of the battalion has been more of a reflection of New York City's villages and boroughs," Gonyo said. "It is always a pleasure to go back to our traditions, back to our roots."

While the regiment traces its lineage back to1849, Company A takes their history all the way back to a militia company in 1775 and the American Revolution.

The 69th Infantry has continuously made history through the unit's dedication to country and the selfless service Soldiers display to the people of New York.

The battalion will again add to the history of the New York Army National Guard with the upcoming mobilization with the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in the fall of 2011. More than 300 Soldiers, including riflemen from Company C and mortar specialists from Headquarters Company, will fill the ranks of the brigade for deployment to Afghanistan in 2012.

"I experienced 9/11 at 13 and it made me sad and angry," said Cpl. Ryan C. Zelman, a team leader with Company A, discussing the likelihood of deploying with fellow Soldiers in the brigade. "I joined the Army to go and protect my country."

The 69th Infantry was among the first National Guard responders on September 11, 2001, under the command of Col. Jeffery Slack, now the brigade commander. At the time, Slack and other local New York unit commanders made the decision responded to the attack by mobilizing Soldiers to immediately assist with rescue and recovery efforts alongside first responders at ground zero.

"I feel as if it is a right of passage for an infantryman and is something that I need to do for more than just myself," Zelman said. "Fighting for my country with New York and the 69th is a great honor."

"I train for this stuff and it feels good to put what I learn into real life," he said, "and fighting with a bunch of New Yorkers is awesome."

The Soldiers will be reassigned are slated for deployment in early 2012, but will be reassigned to brigade units later this spring and summer for mobilization in November 2011.

While the 69th battalion colors will remain at home with the battalion, unit leaders underscored the importance of keeping the rest of the battalion ready for its next mission.

"There will be a deployment for this battalion in its future," Wickstrom said. "I don't know where and I don't know when, but the history of the "Fighting 69th" is far from complete."

"No matter what, whatever the state or federal government has for us, we will do our best to uphold that history [of the fighting 69th]," Gonyo said.