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By Spc. Kiersten Breunig, 404th MEB Public Affairs
Members of the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Normal, Illinois, celebrated a milestone in their military careers as they received their combat patch, for military members serving in hostile conditions, March 17, 2022.
Maj. Gen. William Zana, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa commanding general, presided over the ceremony, noting the significance of the patching tradition and the importance of the 404th MEB’s task-at-hand as primary staff and leadership with CJTF-HOA. As part of the ceremonial honors, Zana placed the combat patch on Col. Justin Towell, of Edwardsville, Illinois, CJTF-HOA chief of staff and also the commander of the 404th MEB, as well as the rest of the MEB command group.
“There are these moments in life… the moment you first get married; the birth of your first child; the loss of a close friend or loved one… these moments change who you are as a person and how you view the world,” said Zana.
According to Zana, both the earning of and the experience that comes along with a combat patch is one of those monumental, life-changing experiences. He reminded the U.S. Soldiers, especially those donning their first combat patch, the respect and responsibility that comes along with their milestone.
The 404th MEB now wears the U.S. Africa Command patch just below the American flag, signifying deployment in a combat zone. Their current combat deployment is with CJTF-HOA, located at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. military base on the African continent. The combat patch has been a symbol of military service during combat operations since World War I and continues to serve as an emblem of personal sacrifice.
“You all are going to live through history here,” added Zana, regarding the MEB’s next eight months in Djibouti, East Africa and the greater continent. “We are serving in Africa during a remarkable time. Over the past 20 years, CJTF-HOA has evolved to meet each new challenge; you are going to watch the task force continue to evolve, witnessing it first-hand.”
While in a combat zone the patch is worn in a subdued color. The AFRICOM patch has a light blue oval-shaped embroidered emblem coming to a point at top and bottom, two palm fronds crossed at base proper, surmounted by a blue oval shield edged with a red border bearing the green landmasses of Africa. The use of blue alludes to the commitment to the unity and coordination of Africa’s allies to promote the AFRICOM mission. The palm fronds indicate Africa’s hope to achieve unity on the continent and to build partnership throughout the world. Red strands for liberation, and the green demotes prosperity. The landmasses of Africa symbolize the continent’s fortitude and the command’s area of operation.
In 2012, a chemical brigade was established as the 404th MEB. Over the past ten years the unit has been building the skills, utilizing many training exercises in preparation for a mobilization. As a newly formed unit, this is the 404th MEB’s first deployment. The significance of earning the combat patch was not lost on young Soldiers with the MEB.
“One thing I really appreciate about the Army is the high standard we hold for recognition,” said Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. Andrea Polizzi, of Elburn, Illinois, CJTF-HOA and 404th MEB Soldier. “It’s a great reminder of our ‘why’ behind serving and to remember those who came before us. Being here in Africa is an honor and I’m very proud of it.”