NEWS | April 18, 2021

Mountain Warriors Change of Command

By Staff Sgt. Paul Glover, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment

Hundreds of Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment attended a change of command ceremony April 18, 2021, at Harold L. Disney Training Center near Barbourville, Ky. This was their first time gathering as a battalion since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the ceremony, outgoing commander of the Mountain Warriors, Lt. Col. Jason P. Penn, relinquished command of the Infantry battalion to Maj. Jason W. Mendez.

More photos available here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kentuckyguard/albums/72157719022991800

Virginia Army National Guard Col. Christopher J. Samulski, commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and Lt. Col. Timothy Starke, commander of the 75th Troop Command, remarked highly of these leaders during the ceremony.

“When 1-149th joined the 116th IBCT in 2016, I knew that the Mountain Warriors would be a great addition,” said Samulski. “This partnership brings my brigade an opportunity to work with Soldiers that easily blend into the organization and make things happen. So I feel privileged to be presiding over this change of command between two deserving officers.”

The 1-149th Infantry are a KYARNG unit that is ADCON to the 75th TC in Kentucky, however they are TACON to the 116th IBCT from Virginia.

"Over the last three years, the Mountain Warriors have executed, pretty much, every type of mission that a National Guard could do," said Starke. "It takes amazing leadership to do all those things--and to do them all to a high standard--and that's why we are here today."

Lt. Col. Penn, 42, has had a long-standing career with the Kentucky Guard, and most was spent in the 1-149th.

“I started my career with the Infantry battalion as a private, and I have served seventeen of my 20-year career with 1-149th Infantry,” said Penn, from Barbourville. “It’s home, it’s family to me, and it’s an outstanding organization that I will always be proud to have been a part of.”

The commanders' careers crossed many times before the passing of the guidon as both served in multiple roles within the ranks of the battalion.

“Maj. Mendez and I were PLs [platoon leaders] together, company commanders together on a deployment, and on staff together,” said Penn. “I'm not looking for a legacy to leave behind. I hope that the battalion I've left Jason Mendez with is an organization that is postured to be successful in their overseas missions.”

Taking command of a battalion just before an overseas deployment brings new challenges for the new commander, but it is a challenge Mendez accepts, honorably.

“Having the opportunity to come back to this battalion as the commander has been a goal of mine for a long time,” said Mendez, 41, from Spencer County, Ky. “The opportunity is there for any 11 alpha [Infantry officer], but being a part of this organization over the years has been the most rewarding for me. So having this opportunity during a historical time is something to be excited about.”

Mendez attributed the success of the battalion's recent missions to the hard work of Penn and the dedicated Soldiers within the unit that overcame many challenges together.

“The greatest challenge was shifting focus,” said Penn. “Over the last 24 months, we have had three or four major shifts in focus. It started with a collective training ramp up to XCTC (Exportable Combat Training Center) rotation at Ft. Pickett, VA. Followed by preparations for a JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) rotation with the 116th IBCT. I felt the 1-149th Command Teams were very successful in preparing our Soldiers for their wartime mission tasks.

"When the COVID-19 pandemic set in, JRTC canceled, and we down-shifted our focus to maintaining our force, which included support during several COVID-related missions across the commonwealth. In the middle of that, we were asked to support civil disturbances in Louisville, the 2020 elections, a flood and ice storm, and we even sent many of our Mountain Warriors to the nation’s capitol for the Inauguration. Now, we continue ongoing pandemic support while we prepare for these new missions overseas.”

“So, it's been hills and valleys, and ups and downs,” said Penn. “When you have an organization that is more than 700-strong, I imagine it's almost like turning a giant ocean liner ship. You can't just turn it on a dime. So, you have to shift the focus of the entire crew. And that can be difficult at times, especially with limited touchpoints with your Soldiers.”

According to Penn, he was honored to lead the Kentucky Guard's Infantry and get to know the Soldiers throughout the years.

"My favorite part [of leading this battalion] is the people," Penn said. "The people that you interact with on a daily basis grow and develop over time. I enjoyed watching them come into their own and do things that they didn't think they could do.”

Mendez echoed the sentiment regarding the Soldiers of the 1-149th.

“I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the past senior leaders, the great NCOs, and Soldiers that have, holistically, prepared me for where I am at today,” said Mendez.

“I come into this position with a bit to learn, and I look forward to what the position will continue to teach. I am thankful for my time as PL, company commander, and the S3 [operations officer],” said Mendez. “I would attribute any level of preparation I have to those assignments.”

In the next twelve months, the battalion will prepare and send troops to multiple locations overseas.

“We have a company that is going to the Horn of Africa to support the Red Dragons (1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment),” said Mendez. “And then we have a battalion-minus mission that’s going overseas to Kosovo.”

Looking forward to future challenges, Mendez said, “first and foremost, I plan to make sure we are ready. The Soldiers need to be ready. Their families need to be ready."

"This is really exciting for us,” he said. “It gives us something to look forward to after all the hard work and training from the last several years and allows our readiness to be put to action.

“I don’t want us to ask ourselves later, ‘Did we get enough reps in?’ We have an important mission to support the 116th, and it will take the efforts of all of us to prepare for it. As we cross the line of departure, I want to make sure we make the most of our time available to us and we do it with urgency.”

“For Mountain Warriors, past and present, it’s important to understand the weight that we carry as we serve now,” said Mendez. “There is a history and past that has come before, and we should all look forward to writing new chapters for this battalion. It is something to be proud of and take seriously, and something I ask that we all take to heart.”