Honoring local National Guard unit
By Hugh Fisher
GREENSBORO — A few weeks from now, troops from C Company, 1-131st Aviation will be saying goodbye to their loved ones.
The National Guard unit, based in Salisbury, is deploying to Iraq.
Saturday, about 400 family members and friends gathered at the Koury Convention Center for a ceremony honoring C Company.
To tunes from the 440th Army Band, C Company marched in.
Their loved ones applauded and cheered.
The deployment ceremony was a chance for them to honor the 84 servicemembers before they leave for Fort Hood, Texas, in the coming days for final training.
C Company’s UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopters fly air assault, transport and medical evacuation missions to support troops on the ground.
Brig. Gen. James Gorham, speaking on behalf of the state adjutant general, told the troops they were “the best Blackhawk aviators in the U.S. Army.”
And he praised their dedication.
“Lord knows you’re not getting rich doing this job,” Gorham said.
“You joined out of a sense of duty, to be part of something bigger than yourselves.”
He presented Capt. Darrell Scoggins, commander of C Company, with a North Carolina flag to fly over the unit’s base in Iraq.
In accordance with tradition, Scoggins will return the flag when his soldiers come home once more.
Addressing the troops, Scoggins said he was proud of their training and accomplishments.
“What we do in aviation is both an exciting and a dangerous job,” Scoggins said.
“I am fully committed to the safe return of each and every one in this unit.”
Also present was N.C. Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety Reuben Young.
He brought greetings from Gov. Bev Perdue.
As the state’s homeland security coordinator, he thanked the soliders and wished them well.
“And we will be praying both for your successful mission and your safe return,” Young said.
C Company’s call sign is the Killdevils, after North Carolina’s Kill Devil Hills where the Wright brothers flew the first airplane.
During the unit’s last deployment, from October 2004 until January 2006, the Killdevils captured more insurgents and enemy munitions than any other aviation company.
As Staff Sgt. Mark Jackson sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” family members in the audience wiped their eyes. When he reached the line in the song, “and I’ll gladly stand up next to you, and defend her still today,” the soldiers of C Company stood as one.
Holding her two boys — Will, 4, and Caelan, 3 — Tricia Schmit of Albemarle looked brave as she stood to leave after the ceremony.
Steve Helmandollar, their father, is a Blackhawk pilot.
Schmit, the boys and his daughter, 15-year-old Grey Helmandollar, are trying to be positive.
“I kind of understand a little bit more than I did when I was younger,” Grey said.
“We’re just trying to get ready,” Schmit said.
After the ceremony, Scoggins said one of his biggest concerns is making sure family members have all of the information and support they need.
“I want to be sure that’s happening,” he said.
Part of that process unfolded before Saturday’s ceremony.
Spouses and family members of the troops attended the first Yellow Ribbon program meeting.
They learned about insurance benefits, setting up powers of attorney and other steps they should take before their loved ones deploy.
Donna Gosney, leader of the Family Readiness Group, said she wanted to be sure family members were ready.
This will be his second deployment overseas.
Gosney helps coordinate the unit’s phone support tree.
“Once a month, they will call to do what we call a ‘well check,’” Gosney said.
They’ll make sure that the troops’ families have everything they need.
If the stress gets to be too much, Gosney said counseling and support services are available.
She will also be working with members of the community to gather donations for the troops.
But Gosney, too, is the spouse of a soldier.
Her husband, Sgt. First Class Leo Gosney, is a member of C Company.
The hardest part for her, she said, is not knowing her husband is out of danger.
“I will miss him, but I’m here where it’s safe,” Gosney said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.