Andalusia Guard unit gets new leader

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

There's a change in command coming to Andalusia Saturday afternoon - but it's not a political change. Instead, the Alabama National Guard will be installing a new commanding officer for the 1st Battalion, 117th Field Artillery Headquarters and Service Battery at the Andalusia National Guard Armory.

Lieutenant Chris Theil-acker, full time officer in charge of the local battalion, said the National Guard will honor outgoing Lt. Col. William S. Bittner, Jr., and install Lt. Col. Mark A. Weeks as the new commanding officer for the battalion.

"This is the passing of the colors," Lt. Theilacker said. "The Change of Command is one of the oldest military ceremonies in the Army. It symbolizes the actual event where one man is taking command of everything over a battalion."

Typically, these type of events include a lot of pomp and circumstance, but Theilacker said the Andalusia event will be a bit more toned down.

"This will be a little more subdued than some ceremonies," he said. "It's mostly because of the current climate within the military, and all of the troops won't be here because many are drilling."

Although all 367 men of the battalion, which includes detachments in Citronelle, Luverne, Opp, Geneva and Greenville won't be present, Theilacker said some 85 to 90 soldiers will be present, along with some of the traditional elements of the ceremony.

But, that's not what Theilacker said makes this such a special event.

"This is the pinnacle of a commissioned officer's service," he said. "Within the Alabama National Guard, this is one of the highest levels of command you can reach. It mean's someone chose you to lead other people. It's an awesome responsibility.

"We will also have some of the artillery present that is traditionally in place during these ceremonies," he continued. "It's still going to be a nice ceremony. We also expect several former Battalion Commanders to be in attendance, several general officers on the state level, and Major General Edwin Wright, Commander of the 62nd Troop Command to be on hand."

Among the pageantry that will be in place during the Change of Command will be special presentations to the wives of the two commanders.

Bittner's wife, Patty, will receive a bouquet of red roses - a tradition in the Change of Command ceremony. The rose, according to legend, will grow wherever the soldier is assigned with proper care and nurturing. The petals signify the beauty and tenderness while the stem signifies strength, endurance and support - all characteristics of a commander's wife. Red is also the color of the heart, and reflects the loving concern Mrs. Bittner has shown for the soldiers and their families over the course of her husband's career. The roses in full bloom signify the time Bittner has spent as first lady of the First Battalion.

Weeks' wife, Lissa, will receive yellow roses, signifying the "dawning of her relationship with the soldiers and the families of the First Battalion," according to tradition.

Theilacker said the public is invited to attend the special occasion, which will also be a return home of sorts for the incoming commander.

Weeks, is a native of Opp, although he currently resides in Wetumpka, where his civilian occupation is facilities maintenance supervisor for the Alabama Army National Guard, State Military Department in Montgomery.

Theilacker said this is a great opportunity for the community to get to know more about the Alabama Army National Guard, and what happens within the Guard. It's also a good time for interested parties to inquire about possible careers in the Guard.

"Anyone who is interested about signing up for the Guard can come and find me and I will be glad to talk to them about all of the benefits of joining," said SFC Mark S. Strickland, Recruiting NCO in Andalusia. "There are a lot of benefits that we can offer recruits, and recruits can learn a lot about life in the guard."