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Freehart made National Guard commander of Buffalo Armory

Beneath a giant American flag Sunday in the cavernous New York Army National Guard Armory on Connecticut Street, the Buffalo-based 153rd Troop Command Brigade colors were transferred, signifying a change of authority.

The Change of Command Ceremony, overseen by Brig. Gen. Michael Swezey of the 53rd Troop Command, saw the armory’s leadership being handed to Lt. Col. James P. Freehart, a 33-year Army veteran. Freehart had led the 204th Engineer Battalion, which provided civil construction support after Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and Central New York flooding in 2013.

The 153rd Troop Command, which oversees 1,700 soldiers, contains two other unit command groups – the 102nd Military Police Battalion and the 501st Ordnance Battalion – as well as several subordinate units.

“I realize my most important responsibility is taking care of the soldiers and their families. ... They put their lives at risk and are what makes this brigade great,” Freehart said.

The brigade will continue to be ready to respond to statewide needs at the discretion of the governor, Freehart said, with job training and preparation remaining a top priority.

Freehart, who lives in Troy, joined the Army in 1981, served as a helicopter mechanic in the 82nd Airborne Division and participated in the invasion of Grenada two years later.

He has served in a variety of military positions, including as a training adviser in Afghanistan, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal. He also is a student of the U.S. Army War College, and in civilian life, works as a technician in the engineering office of the U.S. Division of Military and Naval Affairs, in charge of environmental compliance.

Freehart succeeds Col. James M. Pabis of Saratoga Springs. An Iraq War veteran who had been at the helm since April 2011, Pabis called his tenure “a great ride.”

Under his leadership, National Guard soldiers were deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Qatar. He will now serve as deputy commander of the 53rd Troop Command, headquartered at Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill.

The ceremony dates back to colonial times, when a military unit’s flag marked its position in the line of battle. The colors were always near the commander, so troops knew where to rally on the battlefield.