Mission accomplished, National Guard aviation unit gets official welcome home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 2, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — With the drums and horns of an Army band playing loudly, the soldiers of C Company, 1/131 Aviation Regiment, marched into the drill hall at the Salisbury National Guard Armory on Saturday morning.
They were met by the applause and smiles of their commanders, dignitaries and — most importantly — their friends and family.
In December and January, 83 Army National Guard soldiers returned home from a nine-month deployment, flying missions in Iraq as part of Operation New Dawn.
They’ve had their joyful reunions with family and friends, and they’ve settled back into the routine of a citizen-soldier — work, family and weekend drill.
Saturday was their official welcome home, one of many such “Yellow Ribbon” ceremonies around North Carolina.
It marked the official end of their deployment cycle, and their return to supporting North Carolinians.
When C Company, known as the Killdevils after North Carolina’s Kill Devil Hills, was ready to deploy last spring, Capt. Darrell Scoggins, commanding officer, was presented with a North Carolina flag.
In accordance with tradition, that flag flew over the unit’s base in Iraq.
Saturday, in silence and with formal salutes, Scoggins returned the flag to Col. William Coats, the assistant adjutant general of North Carolina — the symbolic end of C Company’s mission.
4,500 flight hours
Scoggins told the Post that C Company flew more than 4,500 combat flight hours in Iraq, completing 100 percent of its missions with no loss of personnel or aircraft.
“We maintained a 93 percent readiness rate, which is pretty much unheard-of,” Scoggins said.
Last year, the unit received the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Now that they’ve returned home, Scoggins said their new challenge is to be ready for missions here in North Carolina.
The unit’s 10 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters flew troops and equipment in Iraq.
Stateside, they can see a variety of missions: rescue, disaster response and anti-drug operations, among others.
“It’s not really an issue, but the main thing now is to continue to prepare,” Scoggins said.
In his remarks to his troops and guests, Scoggins thanked Salisbury for supporting C Company during this deployment.
He told the Post that numerous churches had sent care packages, while businesses also took time to send cards and other support.
“Believe me when I say it, there’s nothing like a care package from home to brighten your day,” Scoggins said to those assembled.
Employers also pitched in to help their deployed workers. Some are known to pay the difference between a soldier’s active duty pay and what he or she would earn in civilian life.
Most of all, Scoggins and others thanked the families and loved ones for their sacrifices.
“I’ve said it before, but you have the hardest job on a deployment,” Scoggins said.
Thanking the troops
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Gov. Bev Perdue sent messages thanking the troops for their service and welcoming them home.
N.C. Secretary of Public Safety Reuben Young was in attendance, making good on a promise he made at last year’s deployment ceremony to be present at their homecoming.
“And I am both honored and proud to welcome you home today,” said Young, the state’s highest civilian homeland security official.
“Despite the drawdown, we know the work you did was still rife with danger,” Young said.
“We thank you for your dedication, for your bravery and also for your sacrifice.”
Coats, the assistant adjutant general who was trained as a helicopter pilot, recalled spending time in Salisbury during his years of service.
“This community supports the unit and the N.C. National Guard as strong as any I’ve heard of,” he said.
To the troops, Coats said, “I know you’ve been home for a little while … but I know what it takes at home to get this job done.”
He thanked them, also challenging them to keep up the good work and stay ready for whatever they’re called upon to do.
For the soldiers themselves, Saturday’s ceremony was special, but life and work continue.
Sgt. Kendall Gantt, of Lexington, said that this, his first overseas deployment, had taught him a lot.
“You’ve got to look sharp,” said Gantt, a crew chief who works on Black Hawk helicopters.
“You’re representing the Army, the National Guard and North Carolina, all at the same time.”
His wife Crystal and their son, Riley, kept in touch, but he said he missed being there.
“It was a challenge, keeping up family and the house,” he said. “It’s not that easy. You miss your family the most.”
Back and ready
Chief Warrant Officer Jay Moon, a helicopter pilot, smiled as he held his 2-year-old daughter, Molly Grace.
His wife Ashley said having Jay overseas was tougher than she expected.
“I tried to prepare myself, but it’s hard with her,” Ashley said.
They were able to talk using Skype, a computer service that lets users place calls with video.
Still, she said, they missed just being together.
“Just watching your daughter grow up and start doing new things, missing that,” Jay Moon said.
Now that he’s home, Moon said he’s mindful of the fact that his unit could be called on at any time.
“You don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
For Sgt. 1st Class Brian Calloway and wife Deah, those video calls weren’t enough.
“I missed laying my head on his shoulder,” Deah said.
She said it was hard to click the button to end those video calls, “like I was kicking him out of the room!”
This was Brian’s second tour in Iraq. He said he hated being away, knowing his family would have to take care of the house without him.
Now, he said, he’s glad to be back. He, too, said he’s thinking about the chance of future missions, perhaps to Kuwait or Afghanistan.
“You never know what’s on the horizon,” he said. “You’ve got to stay ready.”
“There’s always a possibility” of deployment, Scoggins said, adding that it would be some time before they knew when the unit might be deployed again. Having just returned, they are unlikely to be activated again soon.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t be called upon to help. “We are always ready to execute our stateside missions,” Scoggins said.
For the troops of C Company, life as citizen-soldiers goes on.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.